Earlier this year, I told you about my fascinating experience judging the competition held by the American Cheese Society (ACS).
They recently announced the competition results at the ACS annual conference, and I’m sure there were some very happy cheese makers that day. I couldn’t attend the conference this year, but I know from experience that cheese people can make a lot of noise when cheering for their favourites!
Like at the Westminster dog show, at the ACS, they talk about Best in Show, meaning the winner of the whole competition, not just the category they entered. It is a tremendous honour, and St Malachi from The Farm at Doe Run won this year. This cheese has won its category several times and won other competitions, but this time St Malachi was singled out as the top of the top among all the other category winners as ranked by the judges. They not only won best in show and category for St Malachi but also in three different categories. I’m sure there was some serious celebrating at the farm that day!
The Farm at Doe Run is in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and they have a 350 acre farm where they raise cows, goats and sheep. One of the categories I judged was “Soft Ripened – Mixed Milk,” and although some other lovely cheeses entered, the cheese that ended up winning this category was a cheese called Willow, made with all three milks gathered at Doe Run.
When you judge, sometimes you have a moment where you think "wow, this is such a perfectly made cheese", and this was that moment for me. I had three cheeses. I gave a perfect score, and this was one of them. It arrived looking like a lovely snowy little mound, and its appearance was enough to grab my attention. The interior was a little bit dry and flaky like goat cheese can often be, but with a delicate flavour tempered by the cow and sheep’s milk. If I lived near this farm instead of at the other end of the continent, I would be a regular visitor to purchase this stellar cheese.
One of the other highlights for me was a gorgeous, beautiful dome shaped entry in the flavoured butter category. This entry arrived wrapped in brown paper weighing at least five pounds. When our great steward unwrapped the paper, we were greeted by a spectacular golden yellow butter dotted with colour. It has fine herbs, rose petals, and a small amount of lavender and coarse salt. Oh, my goodness, I have never tasted anything like it. I can’t say that rose, or lavender are my favourite flavourings for things, but the combination was unexpected and so delicate. We had judges, stewards and other organizers stopping by to see what it was for the next half hour.
Of course, I didn’t know what it was at the time, but now that it has been crowned category champ, I know it is made nearby, just east of Seattle in Washington state, at Cherry Valley Dairy. Cherry Valley is a 122 acre farm with all Jersey cows, and wow, you can tell it by the richness of the butter.
It is great to note that many winners are from smaller artisans. It shows that all the hard work to keep a small dairy and cheese-making facility afloat is well worth it. It also makes me realize that we all need to support small operations as much as possible.
For more results, there is a complete list of winners on the ACS website: ACS-JC-Winner-List-2023.pdf (cheesesociety.org)