Monday, July 21, 2008

Calling All Cheese Geeks!

Saxelby Cheesemongers pays a visit to the American Cheese Society!

Well, it's that time of year again. Somewhere in the far off hinterlands, a bugler or a yodeler or some kind of caller sounds a cry and all the cheese dorks in this great nation descend on a particular city for a week of festing and feasting on American cheese. (and I don't mean the Kraft singles kind) That American cheese isn't allowed at the American Cheese Society so far as I know, though that might be a sore spot given that this year's ACS Conference is taking place in Chicago, which among other distinctions, can call itself the birthplace of Kraft foods.

It's been 25 years since the American Cheese Society banded together, rooting and fighting for the little guys in the cheese world, those laboring in relative obscurity and in seeming isolation, churning out great cheese despite lack of resources, supplies, and support in general. The Cheese Society was founded with the aim of connecting anyone and everyone interested in the world of American cheese, from consumers and enthusiasts to cheese makers, restaurateurs, and retailers. Bringing together such a formidable flock of turophiles encourages not only some raucous parties, but the dissemination and sharing of knowledge, from cheese making tips to knowing what kinds of cheese pair best with the local Chi-town microbrews.

I was picked to be a judge at this year's conference, a great honor to be sure, and I will dutifully report to all of you the details of my gluttonous next few days! In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, the cheese judging this year is to be held at the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers' Union. And while I sincerely hope that this choice is not some kind of cruel joke in reference to the judges' collective digestive systems, I can't help but giggle and wonder about inviting Christopher Guest to follow along and make his next movie about the underground cheese movement happening in our midst.

But seriously, The American Cheese Society has come a long way over the past 25 years. What started out as a small-ish, motley but earnest group of cheese makers has blossomed into a grand organization that last year, during its conference in Vermont, featured over 1200 different kinds of cheese. The number of farms producing wonderful, unique, and individual cheeses continues to grow with each passing year, expanding our palates and our hunger for local cheeses at an exponential rate. And while the conventional, industrial dairy landscape looks bleak, there is a flicker bordering on a brush fire of excitement when it comes to farmstead cheese and value added dairy production (cheese, yogurt, ice cream, you name it).

This brushfire is fueled by farmers, of course, but is fanned and spurred onward by you, all the wonderful cheese eaters out there! It is with this knowledge that I thank you from the bottom of my cheesy heart for all the enthusiasm and support you provide to these wonderful cheese makers. And you better believe we won't come back from Chicago empty handed... There'll be plenty of new cheeses to share!

So let's hear three cheers for American Cheese, and may the tastiest wheel win!

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