I've finally awakened from my self-induced cheese coma after attempting to try all 941 cheeses at the 2006 American Cheese Society annual conference in Portland, Oregon. What a show - if you ever have a chance to attend the Saturday night Festival of Cheese if it comes to your state, it's well worth the $50 ticket. You'll get to taste some of the best cheeses made in the U.S. and meet the men and women who make them.
In good news, our Wisconsin cheesemakers dominated the awards ceremony podium, taking 16 blue ribbons and capturing one-quarter of all the awards. Several of Wisconsin's newest cheesemakers took the ACS awards podium for the first time, such as Tom Torkelson of Natural Valley Cheese - a veteran cheesemaker but new to the Wisconsin artisan dairy world. Tom went home with four ribbons - a second place for his Twin Bluff Select and third place for Lindina, both original goat's milk cheeses, as well as a third place for his Goat's Milk Feta and a second place for his Redstone Robust, a washed rind goat's milk cheese.
Other artisans winning big included the all-around favorite Sid Cook of Carr Valley Cheese, who staggered home under the weight of 19 - yes 19 - ribbons for his American originals, including my favorites Cave Aged Mellage and Cocoa Cardona.
It was also great to see our artisans nearly sweeping the many different cheddar categories - and all winning for significantly different cheeses. Hook's Cheese in Mineral Point took first in the aged category for its 10-year cheddar. Willi Lehner of Bleu Mont Dairy went home with a first place for his Lil Wils Bandaged Cheddar in the cow's milk category and Mount Sterling Cheese Cooperative took first in the goat's milk category for their Raw Goat Milk Mild Cheddar. So basically, Wisconsin rules when it comes to artisan cheddars (but this is not new news).
What is new news is that Fence Line LLC, a brand new Wisconsin company making its cheeses at Burnett Dairy Cooperative in northern Wisconsin, took first in the Italian Type Cheeses category for its Fence Line Lightly Aged Provolone, beating a strong array of heavy hitters in this category. Owner Brian Nelson was on hand to also collect a third place for his Fence Line Winter Sun, a cow's milk American original.
And although Wisconsin has taken the coveted ACS Best of Show award seven of the last 10 years, the 2006 award went to Cabot Creamery in Montpelier, Vermont for its amazing Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. Not only does this cheddar taste amazing, it is remarkedly beautiful. However, with the number of new Wisconsin cheesemakers taking awards at this year's contest, I have no doubt we'll see more Best of Show awards in our future.