My 6 Favorite Parts of CheeseCon: An ACS Break-down
Three nights after The Festival of Cheese featuring over 1,500 varieties of fermented milk to eat (then follow up with a salad), it's time to hang up the #cheesesociety2014 hashtag. Or, the #acs2014 hashtag if you wanted to be a rebel and connect with the American Chemistry/Chemical Society from time to time. The American Cheese Society Conference this year in Sacramento was amazing. I'm not going to say it was my favorite, because I said that last year and the year before, and I'd hate to get repetitive on a blog that focuses entirely on cheese, so I'll just say it was glorious. And I'm still full.
My 6 Favorite Parts of #CheeseCon2014
1. The Cheese and the Microbe.
See first photo. 2014 was the year the microbe and cheese solidified their romance at ACS. While they were always aware that they were intertwined, linked, related, much closer than cousins once removed, they really got to know each other this ACS week. They were spotted sitting very closely at sessions like Microbiology of Cheese Rinds by Rachel Dutton and Benjamin Wolf, Ph.Ds. of Harvard University. They were seen whispering mold-type words in each other's ears at Cheese Salami and Microbes: Parallels and Discoveries with Wolf, Jasper Hill's Mateo Kehler and Fra' Mani's Paul Bertoli (both of whose goods are pictured above). They even made an appearance in the session I co-presented. A couple more beautiful than even Eva Medes and Ryan Gosling, cheese and microbes have decided to hide their connection no longer. They're out, they're proud, they're linked through Penicillium Candidum.
2. Coffee & Cheese.
Thanks to the folks at The Rind, I discovered that cheese and coffee are also quite close. Who knew, you ask? Well if you attended the ACS session that paired the two a couple years prior, you might have known. But that session was at 8:30 in the morning in a time zone that was two hours earlier than mine, and since occasionally drinks and late nights go hand-in-hand at ACS and hence I didn't make it to that particular morning session, I didn't know. However, this past Tuesday I went on a walking tour of Sacramento with other conference attendees, where Sara of The Rind paired Old Soul's single origin coffee with cheese. She also paired them with Ginger Elizabeth's chocolates, which good god were amazing, but the coffee pairings were what stuck. The lightly bitter and bright finish of the coffee melded perfectly with the richness and sweetness of the cheese. And her pairings were perfect- certain coffee appellations that were stunning with one cheese she selected fell short with those that she avoided. If you ever get a chance to take a coffee and cheese pairing with this woman, do it.
The last day of the conference kicks off with a morning brunch of butter and yogurt. As varied in scope, texture, and color as shag rugs in a seventies household, the butter table was gorgeous. Some was cultured, some was clarified, some was salted, some was goat's milk, and others were cow's milk. A dear friend was kind enough to go back to the table for seconds for me. I swiped third tastes when no one was looking.
My first time presenting at the ACS, I c0-taught a session called California Cheese & Wine: What Works, What Doesn't, and Why. My co-presenter was the lovely, charismatic and devastatingly intelligent Anita Oberholster, Ph.D., University of California, Davis. Even, I imagined, if I made a grave mistake like calling Sauvignon Blanc Chenin Blanc (I did) or knocking over the projector, ordering the wrong cheese and ruining the entire session (I didn't), I knew that I would be happy to just be able to present with Oberholster (Ph.D. idol). I was also a little nervous. We were connecting wine science with cheese science with which I was familiar, but hadn't before presented to a panel of 22o of my peers. But all in all, it went really well. I had a blast, the pairings were wonderful, the attendees were interested and kind, and I only tripped once outside of the room in which I presented and not on the stage itself. I was honored and proud to present. Thank you, ACS society for inviting me do so!
One of the many sessions that stuck with me was Flavor: The Third Experience with panelists Emiliano Lee of Farmshop, Russell Smith of Dairy Australia and Leigh Friend, Casellula Cheese & Wine Café. Not only did we go over some of the fantastic pairing combos and reasonings behind them at Casellula and Farmshop, we underwent sensory evaluations. Using unlabeled cups filled with graduating amounts of bitter, sour, and sweet compounds, we identified at what points we were able to detect particular flavors. According to Smith, 20% of people in the U.S. and 40% of those in Britain can't detect bitterness. So we did that, and then we ate a little.
6. The Awards Ceremony this Year.
This year marked the first in a while where the majority of the big winners were the small production farms and creameries. See the lovely Audrey from Sprout Creek Creamery in Poughkeepsie, New York above? Three of her creamery's cheese won awards this year. Three of Bleating Heart's in Sebastopol, California strolled away with ribbons. Two of Briar Rose's in Dundee, Oregon won. ManyFolds Farm in Chattahoochee Hill Country, Georgia earned two. The list goes on - Lazy Lady, Ancient Heritage Dairy… and more. In a cheese world where many of big guys have heavy-hitting funding and an arsenal of culture cocktails on their side, it's wonderful to see independent, small creameries demonstrate that that small batches can go big. Congratulations, ACS winners! And judges. Small or large creamery aside, I didn't taste one cheese that won whose reason for winning wasn't revealed in one bite.
We have an awesome thing going here, guys.
7 (numbers were never my strong suit) The People.
We work in a fabulous industry. While you never really have the chance to talk to everyone as much as you'd like, each conference brings the opportunity to eat and drink with old friends, and to verify the coolness of new friends whose awesomeness you've only suspected prior to conference hang-outs. Until #acs2015- I've said awesome enough times in one post, and I already miss everyone. Signing off.