By Lorrie Baumann
For the first time in 30 years of competition, the American Cheese Society’s Best of Show winner was a Canadian. Celtic Blue Reserve from Glengarry Fine Cheese in Ontario, Canada, took home the purple ribbon in a ceremony held on Friday, July 31 in Providence, Rhode Island. The winning cheese is the result of 20 years of work on the recipe, said Margaret Peters-Morris, who began making cheese from the milk from her family’s dairy farm in the early 1990s.
In the years since, she has been an important mentor for many American cheesemakers, who were delighted to see her skills recognized with the Best of Show award, said Mateo Kehler, Cheesemaker for Cellars at Jasper Hill, who took home the third place Best of Show ribbon for Harbison, a soft-ripened cow milk cheese bound with cambium from spruce trees harvested seasonally from the farm, as well as five other awards – six first-place ribbons and two second-place ribbons. “When we started making cheese, we called Margaret,” he said. “I’m so happy to see her win because she’s been a part of lots of people’s worlds for a long time.”
Harbison was a happy accident that occurred in 2008 when a batch of brie-style Moses Sleeper cheese was found to contain too much moisture, and Kehler rescued it by strapping a spruce band around it. It’s named after Anne Harbison, an honorary granny for all of Greensboro, Vermont, where Jasper Hill Farm is located. She’s 95 years old this year and has been a cheerleader for the Kehler families from the beginning. “We wanted to honor a living legend among us,” Mateo Kehler said. The cheese, formed in a 10-ounce round, is made from pasteurized milk. It peaks at about 70 days of aging, when it’s soft enough to eat with a spoon. “It is possible to eat a whole one by yourself,” Kehler said.
Second place in the Best of Show category was taken by a pair of cheeses in a tie between Standard Market Cave Aged Chandoka from LaClare Farms Specialties, LLC and Cheesemaker Katie Hedrich Fuhrmann and Roth’s Private Reserve from Emmi Roth USA in Wisconsin. Chandoka is a mixed-milk cheese made with goat’s milk from the cheesemaker’s family farm and locally sourced cow milk. At three days of age, it’s Cryovaced and shipped in refrigerated containers to Standard Market for affinage. It’s larded and bandaged there and aged for six months before sale. It’s a good gateway cheese for consumers who aren’t familiar with goat milk cheeses and aren’t sure they’ll like them, but who are curious and willing to try something new, Fuhrmann said.
The 2015 ACS Judging & Competition saw 1,779 entries of cheeses and cultured dairy products from 267 producers. Entering companies represented 31 U.S. states, and three Canadian provinces. Three hundred fifty-five ribbons were awarded: 95 first place ribbons, 127 second place ribbons, and 133 third place ribbons. The cheeses were judged over a 15 hour period in which 20 teams of judges ranked 50 to 60 cheese per day. Each cheese receives a score for both technical merit and aesthetic qualities, and the two scores are combined for an overall score. Ties are permitted only for second and third places in each category, so that for each category, the winning cheese stands alone. Along with their ribbons, the cheesemakers receive both technical notes and aesthetic comments from the judges. “The competition is the ribbons; the judging is the evaluation and the feedback,” said Tom Kooiman, who chaired the judging committee.