Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Affineur Zoe Discovers Synchronicity at ACS

Summer Camp for Caseophiles - or - My First Trip to ACS

Imagine hundreds of us, fidgeting in the summer heat, loitering around outside the convention center. We’ve been camped out here all weekend, and as the moment draws nearer to the main event our anticipation is palpable. Finally, the doors swing open and we scramble through, cherished tickets preceding us.

This isn’t about the Police concert last weekend – though the crowd’s demographic is much the same. No, in this case we are the moths and the American Cheese Society’s Annual Conference and Grand Festival of Cheeses is our lantern in the night.

Twelve hundred different cheeses, all crafted in the US of A, artfully displayed and ready for whiffing, sniffing, nibbling and expounding upon. Each table, arranged by category, is endless. Breathtaking. They are draped with fat bunches of grapes, bejeweled with fresh figs and tumbling with the season’s blueberry harvest. Life-like murals of farm life, sculpted from cheese, are the crowning glory. Complimentary beverages circulate and condiments abound. I am in heaven.

And then I want to hurl. I probably eat half a pound before I realize that I should be taking notes so that I can report back to the crew on the latest and greatest in cheese. And I haven’t even gotten to the Cheddars yet. Still, I press on - barely scratching the surface of this bounty. Now and then a cheese hero breaks my concentration (Is that Cindy Major of Vermont Shepherd fame?!?) and I am forced to taste that last one again. The rush of cholesterol actually makes me dizzy. The rest is a blur.

This was by far the most satiating part of the weekend’s activities: I won’t be able to eat more cheese for at least a day or two. The lectures on dairy science and HAACP plans, though, I just can’t get enough of. Seriously. The experts leading these seminars are as well versed in all things cheese as anyone in the world. And they’re telling me everything they know.

Cheese retailers, cheese makers, cheese mongers, enthusiasts, distributors, legends, Canadians – everyone is there, mixing it up, making deals and trading secrets. And now I’m a part of it. A rookie for sure, but at least I’m on the team. It makes me want to keep practicing; improving my stats and developing more sports metaphors to explain the mystery of affinage to anyone who will listen.

For those of you who couldn’t make it - keep an eye out for this year’s winners. (My nod goes to the wildcard champ ‘Barely Buzzed’ a coffee and lavender coated revelation) In fact, buy all of them at once and eat them as fast as you can for a little taste of what you missed this year.

And here’s my message in a bottle to ACS – I can’t stand losing you. I’ll be watching you in the Windy City 2008 – warning rival tasters, “don’t stand so close to me,” with a new game plan for victory so I don’t have to turn on the red light again.