Laura Chenel’s received two first-place awards and two second-place honors at the American Cheese Society’s 34th annual competition on July 28, 2017, in Denver, Colorado.
Laura Chenel’s Original Medallion placed first in the heavily-populated category of Fresh, Rindless Goat’s milk cheese (aged 30 days or less). The 3.5-ounce fresh chèvre was launched earlier this year along with four other varieties in the brand’s Medallion Collection, offering a unique size and package of fresh goat cheeses that’s the perfect size for a quick snack or practical to unmold and add to a salad plate.
Laura Chenel’s 5-ounce Goat Brie took first place in another popular category: American made, International style, Made from goat’s milk. The soft-ripened wheel’s creation begins with fresh local goat milk that is turned into curd, gently cut and poured into molds. After nine to 14 days of aging, Laura Chenel’s Goat Brie develops a thin bloomy rind and a velvety texture. Grassy and nutty flavors are balanced by hints of lemon and a clean finish.
Taking home second-place honors each were the brand’s 6.2-ounce Cabecou Marinated in Herbs and Spicy Cabecou. With a dense texture, goat cheese disks are hand-packed in olive oil with savory herbs or crushed chiles, respectively, infusing the flavors into the creamy yet tart rounds of chèvre.
“We are both honored and humbled that our fresh and aged chèvre cheeses continue to meet the judges’ expectations for superior products,” said Philippe Chevrollier, General Manager at Laura Chenel’s, Marin French Cheese, and Saint Benoît Creamery. “Laura Chenel’s has garnered 17 awards this year alone, testimony to our commitment to produce only the highest quality, handcrafted goat’s milk cheese…. The efforts of the entire Laura Chenel’s team, together with our collaboration with independent goat farmers in the western region of the U.S., have allowed us to become the standard for American chèvre.”
Sister companies, Marin French Cheese and Saint Benoît Creamery, were also award recipients at the 2017 American Cheese Society competition. Marin French Cheese won a third-place award for its Petite Jalapeño, a 4-ounce soft-ripened wheel that offers a smooth texture and creamy taste that nicely counterbalances the heat from the jalapeños peppers. Saint Benoît Creamery’s Original Yogurt also took a third-place prize in its category, appreciated for its exceptional taste and texture achieved with milk coming only from Jersey cows.
Wisconsin cheesemakers continued their winning streak at this year’s American Cheese Society’s (ACS) annual competition, capturing more awards than any other state for the thirteenth consecutive year. This year’s competition, held in Denver, Colorado, garnered a record 118 ribbons for Wisconsin cheese and dairy products, including 34 Best of Class awards. That’s twice as many as the second-closest state.
Wisconsin cheesemakers, butter and yogurt makers, claimed 29 percent of all awards, including 34 first place ribbons, 35 second place and 49 third place. Out of 108 cheese awards, 56 went to certified Wisconsin Master Cheesemakers.
In addition, Wisconsin cheese and dairy companies swept nine categories:
• Fresh Unripened Cheeses, Cheese Curds – all milks
• American Originals, Brick Cheese – made from cow’s milk
• American Originals, Brick Muenster – made from cow’s milk
• Italian Type Cheeses, Grating Types – all milks
• Flavored Cheeses, Feta with Flavor Added – all milks
• Flavored Cheeses, Rubbed Rind Cheese – all milks
• Smoked Cheeses, Open Category – made from cow’s milk
• Cultured Milk and Cream Products – all milks
• Cheese Spreads, Open Category Cold Pack Style – all milks
Thirty-three Wisconsin companies received one or more awards at the competition. Several companies had particularly strong showings. Klondike Cheese Co. of Monroe took home 14 awards, including first place ribbons for Odyssey Peppercorn Feta and Odyssey 2% Greek Yogurt. Maple Leaf Cheesemakers Inc. of Monroe earned nine awards, with first place ribbons for Aged Brined Twin Grove Gouda, Low-Fat Cheddar, Reduced Fat Cured Gouda and Jalapeño Jack. Edelweiss Creamery of Monticello won eight awards, including firsts in Edelweiss Emmentaler and Tuscan Dream Semi-Soft Italian-Style Cheese. Schuman Cheese of Turtle Lake took home seven awards, with a first place ribbon in Cello Organic Copper Kettle Parmesan.
“We are proud of the talent, passion and dedication that earned our Wisconsin cheesemakers another strong showing at this year’s competition. Wisconsin is honored to be among the many other incredible cheese and dairy products represented from across America.” said Suzanne Fanning, Vice President of National Product Communications at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
Wisconsin’s winning streak continues after taking top honors at the 2017 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest and 2016 World Championship Cheese Contest. The 2017 ACS competition included a record 2,024 entries from 281 companies from North, Central and South America.
By Robin Mather
For a while, C.J. Bienert thought that he’d love to run his own cheesemaking company. Then he went on a year-long “cheese sabbatical,” as he calls it, and learned something important about himself.
“Cheesemaking is really about washing a lot of dishes,” he says. “I learned that while working at cheese companies in that year. One day someone asked me what I wanted to do and I was surprised to hear ‘I want to open a cheese shop’ come out of my mouth.”
So, after a year of working “when I could” and interning “sometimes for free” with various cheesemakers around the United States, C.J. returned to Des Moines, Iowa, and opened The Cheese Shop of Des Moines in 2011.
The shop, with storage and production in a 600-square-foot basement and a retail space of about 550 square feet at street level, specializes in artisanal American cheeses and domestic charcuterie, he says. It’s located in a strip mall called The Shops at Roosevelt in the Historic Roosevelt Cultural District. “It looks like a standard strip mall,” Bienert says, “but it’s really food-centric.”
The mall is also home to specialty grocer VomFASS, which sells wine, spirits, specialty oils and gourmet foods; and to La Mie, a long-time Des Moines artisanal bakery and cafe. “Most of our employees live within two to four miles of the shop,” Bienert says, “and many of our customers also live in the neighborhood. Each of us (the other food shops) brings in customers for the others, so it works really well.”
The shop is open Tuesday through Saturday, so Bienert and his six-person staff can enjoy a full two days off each week. “We’re a family business,” he says. “I believe we all need time off to reenergize.”
That’s particularly important for Bienert, who with his wife, Kari, has two children: 2-1/2-year-old son Solomon and infant daughter Coral, who was born in early June — the same week that the Bienerts opened Cheese Bar DSM, a 3,000-square-foot 70-seat cafe that offers more seating for customers than the original Cheese Shop can provide.
C.J. met Kari when he was selling cheese in a gourmet shop and she was working in the store’s wine department. “She’d been in organic farming,” C.J. says, “and she’s definitely a foodie, so we had a lot in common.” Today, Kari juggles the company’s bookkeeping and payroll duties while staying at home with the kids. “I don’t think she’d like to hear me refer to her as a ‘stay-at-home mom,’ “ Bienert quips. “She’s probably feeding the kids while she does payroll right now.” Bienert credits ZingTrain, the business development company in the Zingerman’s family of businesses, with much of his success, he says. “We wouldn’t be here, probably, if it weren’t for ZingTrain.” He calls himself a “servant-leader,” and encourages his staff to develop their potential.
“Like I did on my cheese sabbatical, I encourage my employees to take the time to find out what they really want to do,” he says. “I say, ‘If you want to take the summer off to go intern at a cheese plant, you can do that.’ I keep a current list of cheesemakers seeking interns available at all times.”
Bienert qualified for the American Cheese Society’s Certified Cheese Professional accreditation a couple of years ago, he says, and he’s encouraging his staff to pursue that, too, if they’re interested. “I have some staff people who’ve been with me for five years, and some of them came to me with no cheese experience, but now they’ve fallen in love with cheese. I’ve been in the business for 16 years, but I like to be a good ‘servant-leader’ and lead by example. The accreditation has definitely opened some doors for me.”
Bienert got his start when he was just 19, working for Barbara Horn at her Des Moines shop, Wine Experience, which closed in 2006. “The shop was ahead of the curve and it had a great cheese counter, but in those days, there wasn’t a plethora of web sites or cheese information out there like there is today,” Bienert, now 34, says. “Barbara said then, ‘This is a growing industry.’ And today I tell my employees the same thing — cheese is a growing industry.”
Bienert enthusiastically works to help Des Moines help the cheese industry grow. Classes and samplings at Cheese Shop aid in the growth. “We do classes at the cheese shop once a week, on Mondays,” he says. “They’re themed — things like wine and cheese pairing, cheese 101, cheese 2.0, comparing wine vs. beer for pairings, things like that.” Somewhat to his surprise, the classes have become much more than he expected. “When we first started six years ago, we thought the classes would be just marketing, but they also promote revenue. We seat 25 people, oftentimes sell out and sometimes have people standing for the whole class. We make money on our classes.”
His customers have been appreciative, he says, and that keeps his own enthusiasm revved up. “It excites me that people are that interested in good cheese,” he says.
He recognizes that his store occupies a very special niche, but that’s part of its strength.
“I used Europe as our model and travel to Europe annually. We visit cheese shops and independent retailers, and they have a niche that larger stores can’t provide,” Bienert says.
As examples, he says, “Our main competitor would be grocery stores, but they don’t have our relationship with producers. We’ll drive nine hours to pick up a cheese from the producer on our day off, turn around and drive nine hours home again, just so that cheese will be in perfect condition when we get it to the shop.
“We also do products from La Quercia,” Bienert says of the Iowa company that produces prize-winning domestic prosciuttos and other salumi. “Large stores have a hard time doing things like the hand-carving of a full prosciutto with the hoof still attached, and then giving it proper care. But again, that’s something we can do. It’s not only theatrical and looks cool, it’s also tasty.” There’s no other shop in Des Moines like his, Bienert says, “but I feel there will be more, and I encourage the competition. Again, we’ll rely on our connection with our producers.”