Cheese Heaven at the Festival of Cheese

It IS possible to eat too much cheese. It can also be nearly impossible to stop, especially if you find yourself slogging through a crowd of cheese addicts grabbing to get their fix at The Festival of Cheese, the culminating event at the American Cheese Society Conference, held this year in Raleigh, North Carolina. 1,700 different cheeses were sent into the ACS for entry into their annual judging  competition, and after the prizes are awarded, all 1,700 are arranged in tiers on massive tables in a huge room. At the appointed hour, the doors open and the feeding frenzy begins.

Of course, This years Best in Show, “Flagsheep Reserve” from Beecher’s Creamery in Seattle, is the most sought after cheese in the room.  An aged cloth-wrapped cheddar made from cow and sheep’s milk, it has a chunky, dense, but buttery smooth texture and a flavor of cream and caramel, with an underlying earthiness.  Call it sweet and dirty. Adding to its appeal, almost no one had heard of it, let alone tasted it before.

Whereas I was delighted to try local favorites (and ribbon winners) such as Vermont Butter and Cheese “Coupole” (our friends at VB&CC won 12 ribbons!), Ruggle’s Hill “Greta’s Fair Haven”, Westfield Farm “Blue Bonnet”, a bigger thrill is in finding new extraordinary cheese. Among my favorites was a Tennessee beauty, Sequatchie Cove Creamery “Dancing Fern”.  Styled after a French Reblochon – that is to say it is soft ripened to a velvety smoothness with rich flavors of butter and sweet cream and a slight appealing funk – it was one of the most talked about cheeses at the conference. Also high on my list was a soft ripened and ashed cheese, Black Sheep, from Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery in Illinois, and Bonnie View Farm “Tanasi Tomme”, creamy and soft/dense, with a pleasing sweetness and goaty tart quick.

Almost three hours later, my plate was filled with rind scraps, my stomach was in open rebellion, and thoughts of how to avoid cheese for a week or two were paramount in my mind. Well, that won’t happen, but I’m looking forward to tracking down some of these beauties and sharing them with friends and guests at L’Espalier



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