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American Cheese Society Conference

Seattle, WA

August 26-28, 2010



Day Three – 8/28/10


This is the last day of the conference with only 1 seminar today dealing with Food Safety and FDA regulations in the dairy and cheese industry. I won’t bore you with all the regulations talk, but I will provide a few important points. The average cost of a product recall is upwards of 3 million dollars, which could put small producers out of business. Good Manufacturing Practices are more important than ever in our industry. The FDA has targeted 70% of the small cheese processors of artisinal cheeses in the year 2010. This was a new initiative that started in April 2010.


After lunch, we had time to sight see and take in the views around Seattle. It was a very vibrant scene at Pike’s Place Market and the city in general on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.



Saturday evening, the Festival of Cheese ended the ACS conference, where first, second, and third places are handed out in 95 cheese categories. As I have said before, there were a record 1,462 entries this year. Also, out of all the winners, there was a Best in Show named along with second and third place after it.



The festival was held at the Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony. As you can see from the pictures it is a beautiful facility. The award ceremony was held prior to the festival. Local beer and wine purveyors were on hand to complement all the cheese tasting with their libations. Out in the foyer, Seattle’s best restaurants and fine purveyors had bites of their favorite dishes available to sample.


The displays of the cheeses per category are magnificent. The quantity of cheese is unparalleled. I tried most of the top 3 finishers in every category, safe to say, I didn’t need dinner. All of the winners will be posted on the American Cheese Society homepage on Sunday at www.cheesesociety.org.



The Best in Show this year went to Uplands Cheese Company from Wisconsin, with their Extra Aged Pleasant Ridge Reserve (www.uplandscheese.com). This was in the open category for cow’s milk cheese, aged over 60 days. It is an artisan farmstead cheese with a very rich, full flavor. Second Place Best in Show went to Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery from Vermont (www.vermontcreamery.com). It is an aged goat cheese, called Bonne Bouche. Third place was from Farms for City Kids Foundation, Vermont (www.farmsforcitykids.org). It is called Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise. This cheese resembles many Alpine cheeses from the French Alps.


I hope you had as much fun reading my postings as I had writing them from Seattle for ACS 2010. See you in Montreal for ACS 2011.


Day Two – 8/27/10


Day Two started out with the annual Town Hall meeting, a popular session because it creates an inviting environment for the ACS membership to participate in dialogues addressing their concerns. Many members came to the microphone to address a wide variety of subjects including federal regulations on raw milk and raw milk cheeses, the future direction of the ACS, resources for the small cheese makers, the marketing of ACS members and what that means, etc. Overall, the board of directors and members had a lively debate to start off the day.


After the meeting, it was time for the seminars and classes to start. Today, I was again signed up for three classes:


  • Tasting: Pacific Northwest Dairies – Past, Present, and Future
  • Affinage: A Collaborative Endeavor
  • Perceived Product Value and the Language on a Cheese Label


At the Pacific Northwest Dairies seminar we got a chance to taste 4 cheeses from 4 cheese makers and learn about the history of cheese making in the area. Our first cheese was from Washington State University in Pullman, WA, which has a long and storied history in cheese making dating back to 1898, when WSU started courses dealing with dairies (www.wsu.edu/creamery). The university currently offers cheese making classes along with dairy science classes. These classes help smaller artisan and farmstead producers get the knowledge to perfect their craft. We sampled WSU's Cougar Gold, named after the school mascot. It is white cheddar with sweet after notes and a smooth finish. It was aged at least 8 months.



The second cheese was from Sally Jackson Cheese located in Oroville, WA (www.sallyjackcheeses.com). They have cattle, sheep, and goat on their farm. They are a very small producer making cheese per order for local farm markets. The cheese presented was a sheep’s milk cheese wrapped in a roasted chestnut leaf. It was 3 months old, very moist and very robust with strong farm tastes.


Cheese number 3 was from Willamette Valley Cheese Company in Salem, OR (www.wvcheeseco.com). This dairy family’s heritage started in 1962. They make all types of cheeses, from havarti and goudas to cheddar and jacks. The cheese we tried was called Boerenkaas Gouda, which means farmer’s cheese. It was a raw milk cheese, 5 months old with a mild and clean flavor. The color was a nice yellow and had a natural rind that they wipe with olive oil to help with the mold growth on the rind. This was my favorite cheese out of the 4. It had the most taste explosion. He has both Holsteins and Jersey cows in his herd and uses only the Jersey cow milk in his production to get the most fat in his milk. The Holstein milk he sells to a co-op for fluid milk.


The last cheese we tried was from Kurtwood Farms, a cow farm on Varshon Island, WA (www.kurtwoodfarms.com). It was started by a former restaurateur from Seattle, Kurt Timmermeister. It is on 13 acres of land. The unique thing about Kurt is that he only sells to restaurants and delivers to them once a week. He also is building an aging cave on his property to help with the affinage of the cheeses he produces. The cheese we tried was called Dinah, named after one of his Holstein cows. It is a surface ripened brie. It was very creamy and buttery with a thin rind.


My second seminar was on Affinage, the aging of cheeses. The expert panel included Herve Mons of the Mons Fromagerie in France, Raef Hodgson of Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, and Doug Erb of Landaff Creamery in New Hampshire, who uses the Cellars at Jasper Hill in Vermont to age his cheese. They talked about the importance of air flow, temperature, and humidity to properly age cheese. Affineurs make their own imprint on the products they produce.


Mons Fromagarie has been an Affineur since 1964. They age around 180 cheeses from 130 producers in 4 caves. They use mostly wooden planks, made of spruce. The spruce wood has less tannin to affect the cheese resting on it.


Neal’s Yard Dairy has been an Affineur since 1979. They have two retail stores and the affinage in London. They service many cheesemakers from the area.


Landaff Creamery, uses the Cellars at Jasper Hill to age their cheese. They make the cheese at their farm and take it to the cellars to be aged. They are a very small operation that don’t have time or room to age their own cheeses.


The last seminar of the day dealt with cheese labeling and perceived product value. Consumer research done by Mary Anne Drake of North Carolina State University was discussed. This research has documented that the consumer does read a label and it is important how that label reads. The key to success is the product has to taste good but also look good. Labeling is important but it is the flavor that drives demand and repeat purchases. We want to engage the purchaser to pick up that piece of cheese and put it in the cart.  To draw the consumer, the label should be appealing, have wording that resonates with them, and accentuate the positive in your product. Flavor and health benefits are most important and keep them coming back.


Tomorrow is the last day for seminars and culminates with the awards presentation and the Festival of Cheese. Stay tuned……..




Day One – 8/26/10


Day One here in Seattle started out early with Keynote Speaker Laurie Demeritt from the Hartman Group. She discussed mega trends in food and how consumer food culture is changing. Consumers are now looking for fresh, real, and less processed. She gave many good points on how this relates to the cheese industry and the cheese makers.


As consumers we are no longer just eating three meals a day. We are continually grazing throughout the day as our consumption changes. Cheese is a perfect fit for the snacks between meals as well as an essential ingredient for many of our favorite meals.


After Laurie finished, it was off to the many seminars that were being held during the day. I signed up for three today:


  • The Art of Blue Cheese: Making to Tasting
  • Marketing in the Age of Twitter and all Social Media
  • Last Stop Cheese Shop




During the blue cheese seminar, Cary Bryant, Rogue Creamery in Oregon, Mike Brennenstuhl, Seymour Dairy Products in Wisconsin, and Jeff Jirik, Faribault Dairy in Minnesota discussed the importance of milk selection, breed variations of the cows, goat, or sheep, physical modifications during processing, and the animal diet in determining the look and taste of the blue cheese available in stores today. For example, if the herd is pasture or grass fed, the color of the cheese is more yellow and the flavor more robust. If they are fed silage, the cheese is white and less flavorful. Blue cheese takes on the personality of its creators by virtue of milk type, region of country, processing, ingredients, and curing/aging.

The second seminar was on social media and how Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are changing how companies look at consumers. Our speaker, Michael Claypool, from Huge, Inc., showed us the good and the bad of social media. This was a very interesting seminar, since it really deals with new media that is only 4 years old.  We still don't know what role this media will play in our business.


The unique aspect of this new media is that it turns around how companies deal with marketing. Instead of customers signing up for an e-mail, companies can find customers through Facebook, Twitter, etc. He gave an example with Twitter where people were tweeting about a bad experience with a consumer goods corporation.  The company had their people online at the same time handling these complaints almost instantly, by tweeting back. He then gave some facts and statistics that I found interesting. YouTube is the second biggest search engine on the web, behind Google and it is Google owned. Only 24% of small businesses use the new social media, but this number is climbing every year. On Facebook, the 55 – 65 year old demographics are the fastest growing segment. Also, Generation Y & Z consider email to be obsolete; they Twitter and Facebook all day long. This year, Boston College stopped handing out email accounts to incoming freshmen. Any college news is posted on their website, Facebook page, or tweeted to its followers.


He also touched on two other sites: Yelp and CitySearch. These two websites provide reviews by city for everything from retail shops to plumbers. The public loves to look at reviews and rankings, but as owners look to social media, they have to be careful on how they handle complaints, bad posts, etc. The speaker did not have any evidence of what clearly works because it is so new and evolving everyday. He did stress to embrace social media, but do not stop what you are currently doing to promote your business. He is very excited to watch the evolution of this new media and its integration into business marketing practices over the next few years.


The last seminar of the day focused on the importance of retail cheese counter at local stores. The cheese counter is where most consumers are exposed to the whole world of cheese. Label narratives, sampling, and telling the story of the cheese are essential to building an informed customer base. The cheese counter is a very important control point in the cheese to consumer chain, the last stop.



After the seminars, I attended the “Meet the Cheesemaker” reception which provided the opportunity to talk with some of the cheesemakers that have submitted cheeses to be judged this year. We sampled their cheeses and talked with them about their farms and the types of cheeses they make. This year the ACS has set a new record on cheeses being judged. There are over 1,462 cheeses submitted, besting last years record by over 100 cheeses. It is an exciting time to be here.


The last event of the evening was the Opening Reception at the Seattle Aquarium, sponsored by the Oregon Dairy Farmers. It included buffet food and drink, set up through out the aquarium for our own personal tour.



I look forward to Day Two in Seattle. Thanks for reading……………




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