BRATTLEBORO—Vermont cheesemakers took home a big stack of ribbons from the 2017 American Cheese Society competition, held in Denver at the end of July.
According to a news release from the Vermont Cheese Council, 13 of the state’s cheesemakers and dairy companies won 41 awards at the 34th annual event.
The state’s cheesemakers sweeping the competition is nothing new. For the fifth year in a row, Vermont cheeses have placed in the Best of Show category, either as the top winner or as a runner-up, and they have taken countless other awards.
“This is the second time that there were two Vermont companies represented in the Best of Show winners,” said Tom Bivins, executive director of the VCC (vtcheese.com).
Spring Brook Farm/Farms For City Kids Foundation took the Best in Show ribbon for Tarentaise Reserve — the third time in seven years this cheese has won an award in that category.
Based on a French Alpine cheese, Tarentaise is made of unpasteurized milk from the farm’s Jersey cows. Its semi-firm texture yields on the palate, bringing flavors of sweet cream, toasted nuts, and slight spicy notes.
Spring Brook hosts the Farm For City Kids program which, according to its website, combines “classroom studies with firsthand farming experience to give urban kids an understanding of how vital academics are to everyday lives.”
Longtime winners The Cellars at Jasper Hill took second runner-up in the Best of Show category for Harbison, a cheese that won the same prize two years ago.
Harbison, made of cows’ milk, comes in small wheels and, when ripe, oozes across the plate and is best served with a spoon. The perimeter is wrapped in locally harvested strips of spruce cambium, which add distinct woodsy notes to the rich, sweet, savory cheese.
Some people detect mustard when eating this cheese — I’m one of them — but no mustard is used to make Harbison.
Two Windham County makers took awards.
Westminster West’s Parish Hill Creamery was tied for third place in the Traditional Regional Italian Cheeses category for Reverie, its Toma-style cheese.
The Grafton Village Cheese Company — affinage by Brooklyn’s Crown Finish Caves — won second place for cloth-wrapped cheddars, aged up to 12 months, for Bandaged Bismark, a sheep’s milk cheese.
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It’s worth comparing Vermont’s wins with California’s. This year, California cheesemakers won 51 awards at the ACS. According to the California Milk Advisory Board, that state is the number-two cheese producing state in the U.S., churning out about 2.5 billion pounds of cheese yearly.
If you round up, 13 Vermonts could fit into California — and both states have about the same number of cheesemakers.
The number of Vermont producers submitting cheeses to the ACS competition — and winning awards — seems to increase with every passing year. A record 30 cheesemakers entered items this year.
Producers in this state have quite a few advantages that contribute to the quality of Vermont cheese: a long tradition of dairy farming and cheesemaking, an established network of support and instruction, a terrain friendly to grazing animals, and high-quality soils and grasses.
But all that doesn’t ensure ACS ribbons.
Entering cheeses into the competition costs money. In addition to paying to ship a heavy, perishable product in the hot, summer months leading up to the event, producers have to fork over between $60 and $85 for each cheese they want to enter into the contest.
This is where the VCC comes in.
The VCC offers sponsorship programs to cheesemakers, which pay for their ACS membership and their entry fee.
“The funds used for the competition fee reimbursements comes from the resources we raise at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival,” which is held every August in Shelburne, said Bivens.