Winners announced at 'Oscars of Cheese,' California takes 42 awards

ACS Best of Show winner Tarentaise Reserve. Photo: Cheese Chick Productions

Notice new, elated faces out at the bars last night? Or all week? They were probably cheese industry folks, high off what many call the “Oscars of Cheese.”

The American Cheese Society conference is wrapping up today in Sacramento. Go back to this post for more on the big festival tonight and cheese sale tomorrow morning, which are both open to the public. More than 1,000 cheesemakers, cheesemongers and other cheese enthusiasts are in town to taste, learn and network. 

And even though close to 1,700 cheeses will be available to taste at tonight’s festival, last night was actually the big event for cheesemakers. It was the awards ceremony for the 31st annual American Cheese Society Judging & Competition, which included 1,685 entries from 248 companies.

The winners? Tarentaise Reserve from Farms for City Kids Foundation in Vermont was named Best of Show. Second place went to Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company for its Point Reyes Bay Blue. Oakdale Cheese & Specialties’ Aged Gouda and Sprout Creek Farm’s Eden tied for third place. Point Reyes Farmstead and Oakdale Cheese are both based in California.

On Friday morning, Jeremy Stephenson, cheese pogram director for City Kids Foundation, still looked a little surprised at his feat.

“It’s very uncomfortable,” he said, laughing. “I mean, it’s wonderful. I’m kind of amazed.”

The 38 judges were made up of both academics and prominent names in the cheese business, and they scored cheeses based on aesthetics and technical qualities. Tom Kooiman, chair of the judging committee, said judges had been tasting in Sacramento for more than a week prior to the conference, using a blind system. 

In terms of national cheese trends, Kooiman noted a few categories that saw an exceptional number of entries: strong, stinky washed rind cheeses; aged, mountain-style alpine cheeses; and “American originals,” particularly recipes that don’t quite fall under typical subcategories, like Monterey Jack or Colby. More and more cheesemakers are trying to break away from the pack and experiment, Kooiman said.

And California? We fared quite well. Out of 325 awards, California received 42, the second highest behind Wisconsin. For first place ribbons, California nabbed 10 along with Vermont, while Wisconsin received 31.

If you’ve got a special night ahead that merits top quality, artisanal cheese products, look to these first place California winners: Cypress Grove’s Bermuda Triangle or Truffle Tremor, Rumiano Cheese Company’s Dry Monterey Jack, Beating Heart Cheese’s Fat Bottom Girl or Ewelicious Blue, Oakdale Cheese & Specialties’ Aged Gouda, Point Reyes Farmstead’s Bay Blue, Dairy Goddess Farmstead Cheese and Milk’s “The Valley” Fromage Blanc, Karoun Dairies Inc.'s Blue Isle Mediterranean Yogurt Spread, Garden Variety Cheese’s Yogurt.

Other California companies that took home awards include Belfiore Cheese Company, Bellwether Farms, Central Coast Creamery, Di Stefano Cheese, Fagundes Old-World Cheese, Garden Variety Cheese, Marin French Cheese Company, Nicasio Valley Cheese Co., Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery, Rumiano Cheese Company, Sierra Cheese Manufacturing Company Inc., Sierra Nevada Cheese Company, Tomales Farmstead Creamery and Weirauch Farm & Creamery.

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