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We’re back from ACS!

The culture staff is back down to our normal altitude after spending four days in Denver for the American Cheese Society annual conference, an annual must-attend event for the U.S. cheese community.

Part of the conference was super-cerebral, from a session with Jasper Hill Farm and Parish Hill Creamery on microbial ecology and making your own cultures for raw milk cheese, to trying to grasp the nitty-gritty of different parts of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (thanks Cheese Twins for the crash course).

And parts were extra-social, like all those receptions and meetups and karaoke sessions. Whew. And while we were definitely there for the cheese people and the cheese wisdom, we were also very much there for the cheese itself.

At the conference’s grand finale, the Festival of Cheese, around 2,000 cheeses were arrayed at the Colorado Convention Center. It was amazing to see the breadth of products being made in the country – in every style, texture, and aroma you can imagine. I lingered for a long time at the American Originals table, filled with unique cheeses that don’t fit into a predetermined category.


blue cheese

Sea Change: An externally-ripened cow’s milk blue

There, Cornerstone, a new wheel developed by cheesemakers Peter Dixon and Rachel Schaal at Parish Hill, caught my attention with its earthy, complex flavor. And I nabbed a couple of savory, brown-buttery tastes of Best in Show winner Tarentaise Reserve (the cheese’s second win!). Another favorite from the weekend was Sea Change from Mystic Cheese Company, an externally-ripened cow’s milk blue with delightfully goopy edges and a mellow wave of salinity.

Two of the developments I’ve been noticing for the past couple of years stood out to me even more in Denver – both the flavored and the smoked cheese categories were booming. And they were getting more interesting – think soft-ripening brie-style sheep’s milk wheel flavored with morel mushrooms (Morcella, from Shepherd’s Way Farms in Minnesota), or an alder and applewood smoked Jack cheese from award-winning Mt Townsend Creamery (called Campfire) where milk and smoke coexist harmoniously.

tarentaise reserve

The Best of the Show winner, Tarentaise Reserve.        Image courtesy: Janeè Muha

Now that we’re back from four days in a well-fed, well-caffeinated cheese bubble (thanks Denver!), we’re sorting through notes, unraveling all the threads of inspiration, and getting to work planning out how to focus our coverage for the next year. And figuring out which cheese to eat next. (I have my sights set here, here (omg those rinds), and here.) Any other  recommendations?

Leigh Belanger

Leigh Belanger is culture's former food editor. She's been a food writer, editor, and project manager for over a decade— serving as program director for Chefs Collaborative and contributing to local newspapers and magazines. Her first book, The Boston Homegrown Cookbook, was published in 2012. She lives and cooks in Boston with her family.

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