Okay, so technically the American Cheese Society conference has not yet started, but I'm in Seattle anyway. The weather looked grand, I needed a reason to play hooky in a mosquito-free city for a couple of days, and there's a Starbucks on every corner. What's not to love about this town?
While most conference attendees have not arrived, more than 1,460 cheeses are here somewhere. As I write this, a team of esteemed judges are preparing tomorrow to start sniffing, tasting and spitting out hundreds of wheels, wedges, blocks, discs and who-knows-what-all-shapes-and-sizes-of-cheeses, all in the quest to find blue ribbon winners, as well as the ultimate of ultimate winners: Best in Show (widely known to be the golden ticket to marketing success for one lucky cheesemaker).
However, one of my favorite cheeses, Goodhue Gouda, from the fine folks at Pastureland Cooperative, almost didn't make it to Seattle for the ACS competition. Created with PastureLand milk by Wisconsin cheesemaker Tom Torkelson, aged by Wisconsin cheesemaker Felix Thalhammer, and lovely as the day is long, Goodhue Gouda is a remarkable cheese. It's fun watching people try it: it stops them in their tracks. They slow down and you can actually see the little pop-up word balloon emerging from their mouths saying, "Oh? Oohhh...this is nice..."
And to think, that little pop-up word bubble didn't almost happen to the ACS judges here in Seattle. Here's the scoop:
Around midnight on Saturday, Steve Young-Burns of Pastureland sent me an email with the first two words reading: "Mayday! Mayday!"
This, obviously, caught my attention.
Turns out that Steve had just learned that his wheel of Goodhue Gouda, by mistake, did not get shipped out of Minneapolis to ACS last week. Steve wanted to know if I knew anyone traveling to Seattle today going through Minneapolis who might be willing to carry on a cooler with a wheel of cheese.
While I'm always up for packing cheese, alas, I was not much help, as I was in Madison, with a direct flight to Seattle out of Milwaukee. I put out the bat signal to some cheese geek friends in the Minneapolis area, but hit dead ends all around.
Despair sunk in.
Then, on Sunday at 4:49 p.m., I got this update from Steve:
"I think I have a neighbor set to take it. She is a retired airline employee, and was looking for an excuse to go to Seattle. She is pretty sure she can get it there for us. "
Whoo-hoo! This was good news. But the backstory of the events leading up this good news are even more interesting.
Steve continued: "I just found out yesterday morning that we didn't ship this wheel, and spent the day trying to a) locate a wheel a retailer was willing to give up, because we don't have anymore ready right now, and b) get it dropped off at FedEx or UPS in time for Saturday shipping, all while I was driving back from vacation in Michigan.
By the time I got back, a neighbor was able to get a wheel for me from Surdyk's, and had bought several cold packs and got them started freezing, but we didn't have shipping lined up yet. I spent from 9-11pm last night trying to convince FedEx and UPS to let me drop off last night, but the offices were closed. Resigned to same day shipping ($175!), I started figuring out how we could do that on Sunday or Monday, but found that Homeland Security rules will not let you ship anything heavier than 15 ounces same day.
Crushed, and convinced I was not going to get to ship it, I opened a Furthermore Knot Stock and had some bourbon from a Michigan winery we'd stopped at, and sat grumbling on our front stoop in the dark.
Come Sunday morning, a little hungover, and more than a little pissed that I'd not been able to solve it, a neighbor suggested i post it on craigslist. Thinking, what the hell, I put a note up on craigslist ("Flying to Seattle on Sunday or Monday? Want to help an organic dairy cooperative deliver a very special wheel of cheese to the Sheraton?"), our neighborhood listserve, and on our Twitter feed. Decided I'd done all I could, and left for a 20 mile bike ride with my wife. 90 minutes in to the ride my phone rang. "Hi is this Steve? I'm your neighbor, Linda. I am a retired airline employee, and have been looking for a reason to go to Seattle..."
"It's not there yet, but if it doesn't happen now it's not meant to. Cross your fingers."
With fingers crossed, I boarded my own plane to Seattle and checked into the Sheraton (the conference hotel) around 2 p.m. today. Then, at 2:39 p.m., this email came in from Steve:
"The eagle has landed: Goodhue Gouda is at the Sheraton. Where's my lucky rabbit's foot?"
Whoo-hoo! Good to know that Goodhue Gouda will get judged at ACS after all. Now let's cross our fingers for a blue ribbon ...