Walking around this judging floor is like strolling the red carpet at a Hollywood awards show (well, if cheesemakers were as celebrated as movie stars, that is - and you all know it's my life mission to make that happen). Within the span of 100 yards, I chatted with a dozen judges from 15 countries and six continents, along with some of the most well-known cheesemakers and industry legends from across the nation.
(This seems like a good place to name drop - so here you go: we've got David Lockwood, of Neal's Yard Dairy paired with Neville McNaughton, international cheesemaker extraordinaire, judging the smear cheese category (there are 74 cheeses in this class, and David & Neville have got to taste them all - yikes), while at the next table is Cathy Strange, global cheese buyer for Whole Foods assessing wheel after wheel of Brie, while Kate Arding of Culture Magazine is sniffing and spitting semi-soft sheep's milk cheeses. Down the way, Max McCalman, Dean of Curriculum at Artisanal Premium Cheese Center, is intently squishing flavored soft cheeses, while Shigenobu Murayama, School Master at the Cheese & Wine Academy in Tokyo, is judging ... wait, I can't tell what he's judging -- too many people in the way.)
All the judges are here to sniff, taste and sadly, spit out (it's a judging technique) more than 2,300 cheeses and butters from 20 countries, coming from as far away as Cypress, Argentina, Greece and Japan. This year's contest is the largest cheese contest ever held in the world - entries were up almost 20 percent from last year -- and are all competing for eternal glory as the world's big cheese.
Each of the judges will taste about 150 entries over the course of two days, with all judges then tasting the 77 gold medalists in Thursday's final round to pick one World Champion. Yes, out 50,000 pounds of cheese, one cheese will be named the ultimate winner. Bring it on!