Being surrounded by cheese and getting to sample it, sounds like a dream doesn’t it? Now try to imagine 25 cheeses from amateur cheesemakers from all over Canada and they need to be judged to determine the best in Canadian Amateur Cheesemaking. Doesn’t sound like too much fun now doesn’t it. This was my first time judging cheese, but I was lucky to have award-winning cheesemaker Stephanie Diamant, formerly of Fifth Town Artisan Cheese and now with Black River Cheese.
It was a great experience judging alongside this experienced cheesemaker, I was able to channel my “Cheese Fanboy/Amateur Cheesemaker”, with Stephanie’s help, into judging. I am overly critical about my cheese, so it was nice to discuss the cheeses with a professional which made me more objective. I reblogged the results earlier that were posted on CheeseLover.ca so I am only going to talk about the judging and mention the winners. First up for judging was the Fresh Cheese entries. I was really happy with the cheeses in this category, and if the rest of the cheeses were like this then we would be in for a great day. Everyone of the entries had perfect texture and the flavours were spot on for the most part. It was a tough decision, but in the end that is why we assigned points. We had some great volunteers that plugged the numbers into our scoring sheet and allowed the computer to do the heaving lifting on the math. In the end Curious Goat Chevre by Elis Ziegler was declared the category winner.
Next up was the Bloomy Rind Category.
After having such a great time with the first category I was expecting the next to be a breeze as well. This is where having a professional as a judging partner really paid off. Judging cheese can subjective, I make like the salt levels, but you might not. Stephanie was able to pick up on a few things that I may have missed, at the same time getting me to try the cheese over again to see what she meant. By the third cheese in this category I went back and tried the previous ones and picked up on a few more things. This was a tough category to judge, appearance, flavour, salt and aroma, were all things we looked at and it was a close race. Doreen and Pete Sullivan’s Camembert Type cheese came in first.
By this time we realized that we would exceed the two-hour time period that were allocated for judging, we would stick it out until all the cheese were judged. We moved on to the Washed Rind Category.I absolutely adore washed rind cheeses and was looking forward to this one the most and I wouldn’t be disappointed. The difference between the three entries, in style, types of washes, colour and flavour made it hard to judge these cheeses. We judged each one on its own merits and not against each other, that would come later. This was a great bunch of cheeses but Clover by Mira Schenkel stood out from the rest.
Three hours in I was starting to get the “Cheese Sweats”, well not really, it was hot and humid. Coming from the dry prairies even the air-conditioned hall was not keeping things cool enough for me, but the Firm Cheeses were calling us. To be honest this was the one category that I expected to have the least amount of entries, so imagine my surprise when I discovered it had the most. The variety of cheeses were surprising and believe it or not there wasn’t a single cheddar in the bunch. Again there were some stellar cheeses that were submitted and it was hard to find fault with a few of them. Especially John-Michael Symmonds’ Smoked Caciocavallo which would be declared the best Firm Cheese.
Our last category was the one I wasn’t too keen to judge, not being a huge fan of Blue Cheese, I was happy it was nearing the end.We had two natural rind and a waxed blue to judge and then move on to the “Knock-Out” round of the competition. All three cheeses had great characteristics and the blue flavour was well-balanced. There was one that even surprised me about how good the texture and the flavour was. I had a hard time stopping eating it after we had finished the judging for the day. I am glad that Suzanne Lavoie entered her Feu as it took best Blue honours.
During the category stage of judging the cheeses were not judged against each other, but on their own merits. This time it would be a head to head judging. We tried all the cheeses again and started the process of eliminating them one by one until we had arrived at the best cheese. As an amateur myself I really wanted to get this right, as we were crowning the Best Amateur Cheesemaker in Canada! By the end of the day, almost 5 hours after we had started one cheese stood out as the best of the best.
The Salmon Arm Observer has a great writeup about Mira and you can check it out here.
It was a long day and we still had to package the cheese so it would be good for the Awards Ceremony and Tasting on the Sunday. Stephanie and I acted as emcees for the ceremony. We spoke about what making cheese at home means to us and how the awards came to be. We had several of the cheesemakers in attendance and three of the five category winners were able to receive their certificates that day.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! I am going to start working on next year’s awards this summer and hopefully we can double the entries and judges. Now is the time to start planning your entries for 2016.
The Great Canadian Cheese Festival