Side Dishes: From Texas to Vermont, everybody's reaching for the board
Nearly everybody loves cheese, but being a judge at the American Cheese Society ’s (ACS) annual conference and competition requires more than a passing interest in fromage. This year, the nonprofit swept into meltingly hot Austin, Texas, with a record 1327 artisan cheeses from North America in tow. A panel of aesthetic and technical judges painstakingly tasted each wheel, wedge and sliver, enumerating the joys and defects thereof.
But, though the event was down south this year, Vermont cheeses scored as well as ever. According toJed Davis of Cabot Creamery Cooperative , 15 of the 17 Green Mountain cheesemakers with products on the docket walked away with ribbons, for a grand total of 33 awards. On the phone from Texas, Mateo Kehler, co-owner of Jasper Hill Farm , called it “a very good year for Vermont.”
The biggest coup for our tiny state was Consider Bardwell Farm ’s third-place tie finish in the “Best of Show” category. The honored cheese, called “Rupert,” is an aged, alpine-style offering made from the milk of Jersey cows. Both the Rupert and CBF’s Italian-style Pawlet won blue ribbons in other categories, too.
Shelburne Farms  scored big, as well, taking home a trio of blue ribbons — for 1-year-old cheddar, smoked cheddar and cheddar spread — and a white ribbon for the sharper, crumblier 2-year-old version. Another trio of awards went to cheeses aged in the Cellars at Jasper Hill, including Cabot’s Clothbound Cheddar, Crawford Family Farm ’s Vermont Ayr and Jasper Hill’s own creamy Constant Bliss.
For a complete list of Vermont winners, check out Blurt, the Seven Days staff blog.
In 2007, when Jeff Roberts  wrote The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese , Vermont boasted 34 cheesemakers who used traditional methods to create their products. Today, according to Vermont Butter & Cheese  cofounder Allison Hooper, there are at least 45. Want to meet them? On Sunday, August 23, they’ll gather at the first annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival , hosted by Shelburne Farms.
The event, which began as a way to celebrate VB&C’s 25th anniversary, has blossomed into a cheesy tour de force. Organizers are expecting attendees from all over New England, plus a sizable press contingent. “We have Time  magazine coming, Martha Stewart Living , Bon Appétit , Fine Cooking ,” lists Hooper, noting that many other media outlets will send representatives, too. She expects the event, which has a capacity of 1000, to sell out.
Why is the festival garnering so much attention? Everybody wants Vermont cheese. “There are lots of retailers and chefs from New York to Maine who are clamoring for a day like this when they can get real cheese education,” Hooper says. As for Vermonters, she adds, “In this recession, everybody’s looking to support their local products.”
Visitors will be treated to seminars, cooking shows and cheesemaking demos, as well as lots of samples. “Palate cleansers” come from nondairy food companies such as Castleton Crackers , Laughing Moon Chocolates  and Vermont Smoke & Cure .
Assuming all goes well, Hooper would like to see next year’s fest be even bigger and draw crowds from as far as Chicago. The festival “is unique because it focuses on cheese primarily,” she notes. “People are really interested. It’s a great topic.”