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Culture Goes to ‘Cheese Camp’

A Recap of the 2022 American Cheese Society Conference

All photos by Susan Sherrill Axelrod unless otherwise noted

After a two-year hiatus, the 2022 American Cheese Society (ACS) Conference—or what insiders call— “Cheese Camp” was a joyful reunion of the American cheese community in Portland, Oregon. Conference organizers, along with city and state food and agricultural industry leaders, pulled out all the stops for a four-day event that was educational, inspiring, and above all, fun.

The culture team at the Oregon Convention Center, from left: Digital and Social Media Editor Josie Krogh, Founder Stephanie Skinner, Creative Director Mallory Scyphers, Digital Strategist Kristina DeMichele, Editor Susan Sherrill Axelrod, Publisher Matt Thomas

Most of the culture team was in attendance, and we took the opportunity to catch up with cheese industry friends, network, and participate in the educational seminars. Among them were 2021 Daphne Zepos Research Award recipient, Mary Casella’s, fascinating report on the history and legacy of women in dairy and a panel discussion on Maintaining and Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace for BIPOC Folx Working in the Cheese, Farming and Specialty Food and Beverage Industries. The panel included culture columnist and Cheese Culture Coalition board member, Agela Abdullah, Vanessa Chang, cheesemonger and new ACS board member Emiliano “Emi” Lee, Jamie Png, and Andrea Redeau, a clinical supervisor. “The panelists shared emotional stories of racism within the cheese community, in their jobs, and micro aggressions that affect their lives every day,” said culture Creative Director Mallory Scyphers. “They also explained how white and privileged folks can support, uplift, and defend the BIPOC community. It was immensely compelling and valuable.” 

The seminars also included an R & D session where makers presented new and updated products to mongers and buyers; “content creation on a budget” with Instagram influencers Erika Kubick (@cheesesexdeath), Katie Schall (@beehivecheese), and Emily Delaney (@cheeseboardqueen); and a comprehensive, interactive cheddar tasting led by Chris Gentine of Deer Creek Cheese, Molly Browne of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, and Dean Sommer of the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Center for Dairy Research.

We learned more about Portland and Oregon at the Welcome Breakfast, where we tasted our way along the Oregon Trail from the past to the present, and at a lunch where we heard from a panel of local BIPOC chefs—led by Emi Lee—who shared their perspectives on the city’s multicultural food community. Mexican-native chef Luna Contreras was especially compelling in her remarks—provided via Zoom because she had COVID. Having enjoyed considerable success in San Francisco, Contreras moved to Portland to transition, and said that she found the city to be more welcoming to diversity than California’s Bay Area.

David Gremmels accepting the ACS Lifetime Achievement Award | Photo by Ha Lam

At the second-day breakfast, David Gremmels of Rogue Creamery and Paula Lambert of Mozzarella Company were both given ACS Lifetime Achievement Awards. Gremmels’ cheeses and business have won numerable accolades—among them, Rogue River Blue was the first American cheese to win World’s Best Cheese at the World Cheese Award in 2019, and the creamery, Oregon’s first Certified B-Corporation, was named #1 on Oregon Business Magazine’s Best Green Places to work earlier this year. A former ACS president, he petitioned the ACS to create its first Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005 for Ignazio “Ig” Vella, who sold Rogue, which his father founded, to Gremmels and former business partner Cary Bryant in 2002. Lambert, who founded the Dallas-based Mozzarella Company in 1982, has also garnered numerous awards, and will be honored with the Grande Dame Lifetime Achievement Award by Les Dames d’Escoffier International this fall. Also at the breakfast: Michele Haram of Cypress Grove Cheese received the Above and Beyond Award for her volunteerism, and Anne Saxelby and Pat Polowsky were both honored posthumously with the Meritorious Service Award.

And then there were the parties: The opening night Cheese Crawl, a tour of four locations loaded with cheese, charcuterie and signature beverages, sponsored by Caputo Cheese, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, Prairie Farms Dairy, and Olympia Provisions; the Welcome Reception following the awards, sponsored by Tillamook; and on the same evening, a private party hosted by Michele Buster of Forever Cheese, at Noble Rot, an iconic Portland wine bar with a fabulous city view. The hotly anticipated Meet the Cheesemaker featured a mind-and-palate-boggling array of cheeses from more than 100 producers, and the cheese parody karaoke at Midnight Mongers … well, let’s just say you had to be there!

A highlight of the conference was hearing the results of the 2022 ACS Judging & Competition. This was the first year that the competition was held separately from the conference—in May. Judges tasted 1,387 cheeses and cultured dairy products from 196 companies to award 116 gold medals, 130 silver medals and 133 bronze medals at an evening ceremony on the second day of the conference. Best of Show, 1st Place went to Whitney, a raclette-style cheese from Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, VT. Best of Show 2nd place was a tie between Flagsheep, a cow and sheep’s milk clothbound cheddar-style cheese from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese in Seattle, WA, and Bamboozle, a washed rind goat and cow’s milk cheese from Goat Rodeo Farm & Dairy in Allison Park, PA. Best of Show 3rd Place went to Greensward, a soft-ripened, cider-washed, bark-wrapped wheel from the Cellars at Jasper Hill and Murray’s Cheese of Long Island City, NY.

Eloquent and impassioned as always, Jasper Hill Farm co-founder Mateo Kehler spoke about turning the Community Supported Agriculture model around to create an “agriculture supported community,” and the way in which artisan cheesemaking can restore and maintain rural communities. “I think that we’re at an inflection point in our industry,” he said. “We’ve been through so much the past few years, and this for us [winning Best of Show] is just epic. It is our opportunity to push the boundaries in our market to win new consumers. I would call you all to that effort. I think that when we win consumers for specialty cheese, whether it’s a Whitney, or any of the amazing cheeses that you produce, we all win and we can all win together.”

According to a press release: The ACS Competition shines the spotlight on American cheesemakers by showcasing their talents and work as leaders within the industry, both for their excellent cheesemaking and commitment to food safety. “This year, the 2022 Annual Conference opened with the Award Ceremony to celebrate the accomplishments of our cheesemakers throughout the entire conference,” said Judging & Competition Chair Rachel Perez in the release. “J&C is a unique competition that focuses on providing expert constructive feedback with the goal of giving cheesemakers the guidance to produce better cheese and elevate American cheese in the marketplace.”

I know I can speak for my colleagues when I say that “Cheese Camp” was illuminating, uplifting, and gave me so much to think about. Next year we’ll be in Iowa, and I can’t wait.

The full list of winners

Susan Axelrod

Susan Sherrill Axelrod is a former editor of Culture. Her love affair with cheese began at age 12, when she bicycled to a gourmet shop to taste an exotic newcomer—French brie. She lives with her partner in midcoast Maine, where she enjoys a well-made cocktail, hiking with their dog, Lucy, and spending as much time as possible on the water.

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