Friday, June 26, 2009

cheese: the next frontier

When I agreed to sit on the judging panel of the North American Jersey Cheese Awards happening in Syracuse, New York next weekend, it all seemed pretty small and informal--like this little cheese montage.

Then, this morning I got an email from the head judge (chief justice?) letting me know that there will be 83, yes, 83 cheeses and butters from 30 producers in 16 states, plus Canada, entered in the contest. Tomorrow I'll be receiving my judging packet, with a sample judging form and a list of cheese terminology. Although I've been assured my role is as an aesthetic judge, rather than expert, I'm a bit intimidated by my roster of co-judges, which includes a former New York State cheese grader as well as the Dean of the Cheese Education Guild.

All the cheeses I'll be judging next weekend will be made of cows' milk, specifically from the Jersey breed. In addition to being beautiful, Jerseys are smaller than other dairy cows, and produce milk is higher in butterfat--pretty little rich girls, if you will.

I decided I need to educate myself a bit before passing judgement on some 83 dairy products.

So, I got on the subway to the Essex Street Market and sought direction and basic cheese-acation from Anne Saxelby, the cutest cheese-monger I've yet to encounter--click. (And they are, truly, a really cute breed.) She gave me a crash course between filling orders and taking phone calls in her wee alcove next to Shopsin's.

Anne told me that milk + culture + rennet + salt = curds + whey, the whey is then drained off, leaving curds which are pressed and aged...then...cheese! Right now, my knowledge and experience of cheese is new, young, fresh and unfettered, much like this little curd.

But soon, it will be more like this Jersey raw milk Bouree, buttery, washed in brine, "with a slight pungent aftertaste."

Stay tuned, we've got a long way to go. As one caring acquaintance advised, "start taking your acidophilus now."


  1. I am sending you good thoughts all weekend. I hope you don't hate cheese by the end of the competition and what a great resume builder!!(SMILING)