Sunday, July 27, 2008

Eat Local Cheese

We're Number 1

My beloved Cubbies hold on the National League is getting more and more tenuous. Luckily, my local cheese team took home the trophy (again) in the annual American Cheese Society competition (pdf).

This was the year of Sid Cook domination. His Carr Valley Cheese took first and third in the best of show honors. The whole list of winners is dotted with Carr Valley cheeses. Many local cheeses won honors at the 2008 event, but from my casual eye, it seems like the local team did not clean up quite as much as expected. It's like when the US Olympians hit the stage, you expect a certain amount of medals but when you do not see them on top of the swimming or track podiums, you wonder what happened. Now, I do not know all the cheeses entered in the competitions, so I do not necessarily know who "lost". It did surprise me to see less of certain names.

Brunkow Cheeses, with the able assistance of Joe Burns, makes outstanding English farmhouse style cheeses. None of those won awards (although Brunkow did take high honors for their raw milk spread and Brun=uusto baked cheeses). Willi Lehner's BleuMont Dairy's name could be found but once on the list of winners. Is this considered an upset: Trader's Point Creamery Yogurt came in second? Our butters won but one of the several awards. Illinois's goat gal, Leslie Cooperband and her Prairie Fruit Farms one but won too. Another local goat lady, Capriole, also won but one. And my favorite, my favorite of nearby goat cheese woman, Wisconsin's Fantome Farm won but none. Did they compete?

Still, local cheesemakers can be be found through out the winners, even ones not named Carr Valley. Previous stars Uplands Cheese and Leelanau Creamery went head to head, taking second and third in a washed rind category. Brenda Jenson and her sheep did even better, taking several awards for her Hidden Springs Creamery. Where do you really want to see Wisconsin cheeses win, the cheddars right? Hoch Enterprises's Braun Suisse Kase [ed. ever hear of?] aced baby cheddar; Maple Leaf Cheese Co-op got adolescent and another Braun Suisse Kase cheese got the old timer (aged over 4 years). Wisconsin cheddars did not take first places in the adult cheddar (aged between 25 and 48 months) and the more prestigious bandaged cheddar categories. Classic Wisconsin names like Widmar, Roth Kase and Hooks can also be found in this year's awards.

One category that I found, perhaps, a bit surprising, was the Italian hard cheese style. The more commercial orientated BelGioioso Cheese took first and second and the more artsy, certainly more expensive, SarVecchio took third. In related cheese catagories, I see no local cheeses amongst the mozzarellas. I would guess that my guys just don't enter a thing like this. I wonder how the hand made stuff at Caputo's in Melrose Park would stack up against the winners.

At the end of the day, how many people will still associate Midwestern cheeses with orange blocks a step above Velveeta [ed., or even better, shaped like the state of Wisconsin and wrapped in red wax?]. How many shoppers will go looking for a "prestigious" cheese and head straight for the Red Hawk or Cyprus Grove labels? Me, I stick to local because it's my team. Luckily, it means some fine eating too. Eat some local cheese this week in honor of the champions.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

Thanks for writing about what went on at the main event. It sounds like I should have gone, but the price was a little steep. ($85?).

I went to the "Yard Sale" today. It was overwhelming, with 5 or 6 tables full of barely or unlabeled chunks of quickly wrapped cheese. I ended up with 2 lbs of "Carr Valley Sharp Cheddar", a couple of huge pieces of "3rd Place Finisher" (?), and whatever the person behind each table thought was "best".

I did feel a little guilty only paying an average of $2/lb. On the upside I've got 10 lbs of beautiful mystery cheese in my fridge.

Not sure if it qualifies as local. If you walk a mile to buy it does that count?