There were 1,676 cheeses, so little time.
At the 28th annual American Cheese Society conference, held last week in Montreal, the selection was overwhelming. Of the 17,000 pounds brought in for the event, from fresh chevre to bloomy rinds and bandaged cheddars, it was the U.S. artisanal cheeses I was most eager to experience.
Difficult to get in Canada, the Americans are making some amazing cheeses and part of the goal of the Montreal-based conference was to encourage more availability of these products at our local cheese counters.
Winning an award at the world-renowned ACS competition is a distinct honour due to the high level of competition as well as the intense scrutiny of the judging system. I was a little shocked Friday night to feel a little lump in my throat (not cheese for the first time in 48 hrs) as many of our country's cheese makers won ribbons. And if I can be blunt, Canada kicked cheese ass.
We contributed about 20 per cent of entries and won 73 out of a possible 324 ribbons in 108 categories.
A few of my favourites? I'd move to Seattle if it meant I could be closer to Flagsheep from Beecher's Handmade Cheese, this is an aged, crumbly, mixed milk version (sheep, cow) of their semi-hard cow's milk cheese called Flagship. It had so much complexity and flavour (nutty, creamy, sweet caramel) that I was still tasting it minutes after leaving their booth. I also fell in love with a cheese called Barely Buzzed from Beehive Cheese Company in Utah that took first prize in its category. The exterior of the buttery cheese is rubbed with a blend of coffee beans and lavender buds. It sounds strange, but trust me, it works (and is now available at Sobeys).
First prize for Best in Show (overall excellence) went to Oregon's Rogue Creamery's Rogue River Blue. This blue comes wrapped in syrah vine leaves and is unbelievably smooth and complex with a perfect salt balance and a piquant fruity character. Finally, I am proud to say that two of the Best in Show Cheeses were Canadian.
Louis D'Or from Fromagerie du Presbytère won 3rd place and tied for second (with Cave Aged Marisa from Wisconsin) was Ontario's Lindsay Clothbound Goat Cheddar from Finica Food Specialties.
This clothbound shows addictive buttery hazelnut flavours and a long finish hinting at dulce de leche sweetness. Seems our cheese is getting as good as our hockey. Maybe it's time for a new national pastime.
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.
Special to the Globe and Mail
Editor's Note: Ontario's Lindsay Clothbound Goat Cheddar tied with Cave Aged Marisa from Wisconsin, and Canadian cheese contributed to 20 per cent of entries, winning 73 out of a possible 324 ribbons in 108 categories. This version of the story has been updated.