The ACS (American Cheese Society) conference in Austin was a great opportunity to show off our state and its excellent cheese. I went early last week to participate in the competition judging.
Some 1300 American dairy products (not just cheese, but also butter, yogurt, and cultured cream) were shipped to Austin for careful critique. Volunteers organized the entrants, making sure they were at the proper tasting temperature when they reached the judges.
Half of the 28 judges were designated "technical" judges. These were dairy and cheese experts and scientists. They were each paired with an "aesthetic" judge, who was closer to the consumer side of the cheese world.
("Aesthetic" judge Edouard Damez of Central Market with "technical" partner, Kate Arding of Culture Magazine.)
I was, of course, on the aesthetic side, and had the "feel good" roll of awarding points for the good qualities of each cheese. My technical partner, Dr. Steve Zeng, is a goat and goat cheese expert from Oklahoma. His job was to look for faults and deduct points accordingly.
(Dr. Steve Zeng and me, in our lab coats.)
Each team analyzed the aroma, flavor, texture, and appearance of about 45 cheeses per day. Despite the heavy workload, everyone was very conscientious in their judging, even with the less-than-desirable categories. (Stephen Corradini of Whole Foods Market bravely faces a block cheddar category.)
The amazingly efficient organizers tallied the scores on the second day and ranked the winners. We then tasted all 88 first places and cast our votes for "Best in Show."
(First place winners lined up for the final round of tasting.)
Even in this elite group, there were clear standouts. The winner?