I felt like I was prepping for a new school year when I was packing for my first American Cheese Society conference. Cheese notebook? Check. Favorite pens? Check. Achadinha Capricious aged goat and Roth Private Reserve cheeses to say thank you for a host? Check. I politely explained to my stomach its need to respect my educational quest, packed sneakers to wear to farms and cheesemaking sessions, then boarded the plane ready four days of cheese fever.
The first night I stayed with friends of friends outside downtown Seattle. I decided I liked them after they showed no fear of the strong, earthy scent wafting from the slightly warm Capricious I carried with me on the plane. They cooked wild mushroom and eggplant fresh pasta and poured Andrew Will Sangiovese to help fortify me for the days ahead while a cat the size of cocker spaniel watched and wondered when it would get fed. Wild blackberries grew outside.
I woke up early in the morning ready for an Olympic Peninsula cheese conference tour. Due to a cheesemaker injuring his arm after falling off a roof (I only could hope the building had low ceilings) and a traffic jam that kept us at least an hour and a half behind schedule, we only visited one cheesemaker. I was happy the aforementioned was Mt. Townsend, who makes some of the best soft-set lactic acid creamy cheeses in the country. Before heading back, we stopped at a Finn River Farm to taste their organic pear and apple ciders.
The next day kicked off with a session about terroir in America, lead by Ivan Larcher and Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Creamery, and cultural anthropology professor Amy Trubeck of University of Vermont. They discussed whether and how creating appellations for cheese and artisan food products in the United States, starting off in Vermont, might might be beneficial to producers and the land’s inhabitants. Terroir is the expression of the environment- geography, landscape, culture and history of a place- in a food or wine. To say that something that has terroir is to say that you can taste the flavor and nature of a place in the product- the wild juniper in the hills or the clover the animals are eating in a wheel of cheese, the effects of rocky soils in a Languedoc wine.
This was an awesome session. Larcher insisted that unless made from raw-milk, a cheese cannot reflect terroir because the microorganisms and bacteria that are inherit to the area (what he calls “positive contamination” ) are killed by pasteurization. Panelists asked how to market, protect and establish value to the term and how giving terroir value through labeling might might help to keep people in rural landscapes and prevent more rural exodus. Many, like New York City Fromager and dairy activist Tia Keenan sitting to my right, wondered how people could create or maintain appellations without government support.
The best sessions, like this one, were interactive, asked questions about cheese and its place in the world, and helped attendees understand the depth of their field.
I will detail two or three of my other favorite sessions in a future post, but I hope you enjoyed the taste of the first part of the conference. I’ll also reveal some of my favorite new cheeses later in posts too.
As a side note, one of the coolest things about the conference was meeting or hanging out with cheesemakers that I highly respect and cheese people that rock. I hung out with Gordon Edgar of Rainbow Grocery, Jeanne Carpenter of Cheese Underground, and many more who help to elevate cheese’s presence in the nation. Bonus- they’re also very funny. I met and talked to cheesemakers from Nicasio, Barinaga Ranch, Bleating Heart, Delice de la Vallée, Jasper Hill, Shelburne Farms, and even had a riveting conversation with Andy Hatch of Pleasant Ridge Reserve about how they brought cow semen from the Jura region to start breeding Montbeliard cows in Wisconsin.
See? I learned a lot.
More to come.