Wednesday, August 5, 2009

HOLY CHEESE what a fest!

After nearly 4 days of non-stop cheese festing, I am fixin' to leave Austin with heaps of invaluable cheese friends & curds of knowledge. I had planned on posting throughout the conference, but the cheesers really kept me busy! There is so much to cover, so I'll try to break it down to the days & hit the high notes. Here's to trying...

Day 1- Meet the Cheesers: The format was slightly different for each day of the conference, but the first day I was able to attend 4 classes or "sessions" of my choosing. I was lucky enough that my first 2 classes were led by Ari Weinzweig, owner/founder of Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, MI. For those that do not know of Zingerman's, they are a wildly successful retailer of the curd. Ari brought a wealth of knowledge regarding the retail world focused on giving stand-out customer service & training spectacular employees. These classes are also given in Ann Arbor & I highly recommend checking them out....

Following lunch, I launched into more intense cheese training, trying to follow some serious cheese chemistry from brilliant cheese experts. One session focusing on ripened cheeses, where we talked about cheese Ph levels & how they change over time in the aging process most of which was way over my amateur cheese brain. The next very tasty seminar focused on identifying flavors led by Ivan Larcher, a cheese consultant from France. Where we tasted 5 delicious American cheeses (see pic to left), all of which were fairly torn to shreds by our French instructor...SURPRISE! It was actually quite entertaining...until he got to Mt. Tam (one of my stand-by CA favorites), where I almost took off my flip flop & chucked it at my friendly frenchman.

The evening was really the highlight where we had an opportunity to meet cheesemakers from across North America & taste their masterful curd. After helping my fellow Cali cheesemakers set up their tasting stations, I had the honor of standing in for Bellwether Farms who's cheesemaker missed his flight & was stuck somewhere in Arizona waiting for his connecting flight. Here is a pic of my beautiful booth...rad.

Day 2 - Cheese Up, Party Down:
My day started a bit later & I was able to do a mini sleep-in, which was very necessary for the day ahead. First up, cheesemonger strategies (YES...I cannot wait for the day when I consider myself a cheesemonger) from retailers of all sizes, followed by lunch, & a session on cheese efforts in sustainability.
The real action started after the sessions, where I was welcomed along with all my fellow new comers with an open bar, and I'm not talking about a cheese bar. After the new member reception we moved straight into the conference opening reception sponsored by the lovely state of Oregon, which of course supplied tasty cheese & Rogue brewery delights. Next thing I know I am being talked into a "final final," which apparently is just another way of saying "one more drink," to close down the hotel bar with my new cheesemaker friend (hailing from Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese...not to mention any names or anything). It was a blast.

Let the fest continue...more curds to come.

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