Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Stacy at the American Cheese Society

Many thanks to Rob Kaufelt for sending our Murray’s crew, Amy, Nora, Diane, Tom & myself to Portland for this year’s American Cheese Society Conference. We wore many hats, as all are wont to do at Murray’s Cheese, NYC. The experience was, inspiring, rejuvenating, humbling, affirming, bonding, and back-breaking (Big Cheese!).

Overall Observation: Cheese people are very cool.
We met so many people with moving stories, great ambition and real excitement for cheese and all that it entails.

Cruise of the Willamette (wil-LAH-mit) River:
‘City of Bridges’, docks of houseboats, jetskis of waving folks, it was sultry and sparkling out there on the water at sunset. Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) set up a serious spread for Wisconsin cheese lovers like us.

Opening Ceremonies:
Allison Hooper - ACS President and Juliet Harbutt - culinary author and educator were engaging, funny and real. Lewis and Clark discovered Oregon and these happening ladies kicked off the rediscovery of the wide world of cheese in a big way.
Cheese from W(h)ales…that story killed!

Up Close and Personal:
People of the cheese have full and interesting lives and are not afraid to let you into them. We had a lovely dinner with Marilyn, David, Stan, Sid, and the rest of the WMMB team at ‘Wildwood’ in the Pearl District. The atmosphere was very shui, tough-guy chefs on stage, and excellent food and drinks. Bartenders in Portland seem to genuinely like to make artisanal cocktails! Refreshing.

Fromager Certification - I want to live in a world where I can evaluate my knowledge, give it a fun title and validate my choice of the retail cheese industry. There are levels of expertise proposed, Certified Cheese Specialist, Fromager, Master Fromager, and Mac-Daddy Cheese Guru (I kid). Investors in the future of this excellent proposal welcome.

Dessert Wines Paired With American Artisan Cheeses – Definitely my favorite session. The speakers on the panel were thouroughly enjoyable, particularly Max McCalman who led a rousing round of applause for full-figured gals; historian Donnal Mixon who schooled the group on the ever-elusive topic of ports and dessert wines; Jessica Little from Sweet Grass Dairy; and Jill Giacomini Basch from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. Her story of four sisters making their 48-year-anniversary-celebrating parents’ dreams come true was so touching; I forgot to eat my cheese! Family and being kind and respectful to each other are concepts that are alive and well in the cheese community. Especially refreshing.

Education is the key to the rise of cheese in the proverbial and literal food chain. I know I’m going to study harder and teach smarter.

Cell phone abuse was surprisingly minimal. Except when it wasn’t. The “Who Killed My Cheese” aka “Rumble Cheese” session was a challenge. Jingling neighbor, barely air, soft-talkers, and late-comers in the back made the interactive dialogue a little hotter than the panel expected. And FYI Seattle Chef, there is quality affinage in the US and you’re a ‘HOME’ click away. Also, I appreciate that you like French cheese, I do too. But to say it’s better than American cheese at the American Cheese Society conference?! Interesting choice.

Our Night Off:
Paley’s Place – Former NYC modern dancer Kimberly and James Beard Award winning chef Vitaly Paley gave us a fabulous dining experience. The place was overrun with cheesers enjoying (word of the week) their boards. Nice knockers Kimberly! (doorknocker collection people…behave)

Juggling – The International Juggler’s Association had their conference simultaneous to the ACS (coincidence or does the street performance set love cheese too?). To the ‘Renegade’ finale on the rooftop we went. It was a freakish diversion with swords and marshmallows, but the only thing in the air was Matt Hall’s balls and 90% humidity.

The Pool:
Nora and I took a heatwave break one day. Sorry, no cameras allowed in the grotto.

What the FOC:
The Festival of Cheese – So much time, muscle, and talent went into the beautiful displays. Sculptures, pyramids, cheesefalls and henges looked almost as good as they tasted. Congratulations to all the participants and winners that created such a stunning event!

Cheese Sale:
The proceeds from the cheese that didn’t get inhaled at FOC go into a college education scholarship fund. Cultivating future mongers, one pound at a time.

Moral of the Story:
Spreading education, excitement, love, and energy of the cheese and the people of the cheese is what the American Cheese Society conference means to me.
Thanks again for the adventure!

‘Children of the curd
Shall be heard, Feds can’t foil
Fruit of the soil.’

Eat It Raw!

Stacy Van Voorhees
Murray’s Cheese