What I Learned at Cheese Camp
Last week, I went to Cheese Camp. You are probably picturing a woodland setting with counselors who teach kids how to make clay cheese talismans, like the ones pictured above. But no. There were too many of us: around 2,000 dairy nerds. We converged at a convention center in Providence, Rhode Island and ate copious amounts of American cheese. Cheese for breakfast. Cheese for lunch.
There was even a traveling cheese truck from Murray’s in New York with on-board cheesemongers who passed out glorious samples and sold cheese-themed bandanas. Above, you can see Sue Miller wearing hers on opening day, over a Vermont pancake breakfast. I have never eaten so much cultured butter.
Here are a few observations from camp on the subject of artisan American cheese, in case you enjoy following trends or dream of attending Cheese Camp 2016. Viva Des Moines!
If you want to make cheese, move to Maine.
Young cheese-making dames from Maine dominated the social scene and mopped up ribbons at the legendary Cheese Oscars. Funding from the generous Maine Cheese Guild paid the hefty price of admission. No wonder Maine is the fastest growing cheese state. It’s great to see young, entrepreneurial food producers supported. Award-winning Maine producers to watch for: Fuzzy Udder Creamery (sheep yogurt), Tide Mill Creamery (Little Bloom), Swallowtail Farm (Caramel Sea Salt Greek Yogurt), York Hill Farm (Ripened Chèvre Roll in Ash), Winter Hill Farm (Tide Line). I’m also a fan of Lakin’s Gorges.
Spirits are Entering the Pairing Game
Cowgirl Creamery presented one of the most-talked-about pairings of the conference: a wedge of Pierce Pt (a bloomy cheese rolled in flowers) atop a Simple & Crisp apple chip with a rum chaser. Fabulous.
Hot Topics in Cheese: Wooden Boards, Water Buffalo, and Coagulants
These were just a few session topics that conferees were buzzing about over beers. For information on aging cheese on wooden boards, check out the American Cheese Society’s position statement. To read about one of the leading water buffalo producers in Italy, check out Quattro Portoni — they were presenters at the conference. Although I missed the session on coagulants, I was fascinated to meet Artisan Geek, an urban cheesemaker and internet entrepreneur who curates a selection of hard-to-find products, from thistle rennet to rye-straw mats.
Cheese Art is Exploding
The conference held its first cheese art show (small but titillating) that included the always gorgeous cheese portraits by Mike Geno, tiny clay cheese replicas by Dylan Stanfield of Mt Townsend Creamery, cheese illustrations by the wonderful Miss Ziss, and cheese-centric ceramics by Cricket Creek’s Suzy Konecky.
Midwestern States Like Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska are Bumpin’
Some of the most interesting new cheeses I tried came from heretofore cheese deserts (at least in the artisan world). Midwestern cheesemakers to watch for: Reichert’s Dairy Air (robiola in Iowa!), Jacobs & Birchford (Ameribella, a glorious stinker from Indiana), Alemar Cheese (funk in Minnesota).
Southern Cheese States are Swoopin’ In
One of my favorite cheeses of late: Rosie’s Robiola from Boxcarr Handmade Cheese in North Carolina. All of Boxcarr’s cheeses are inspired by the small country farmsteads of Northern Italy. I loved meeting Alessandra, a former geologist turned cheesemaker.
Beard Nets Will Be Big Business
Feeling entrepreneurial? Take a look at all the bushy cheesemakers in the cheese world.
And there you have it. To stay looped in, look for these cheesemakers on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also join the American Cheese Society and dairy-trip your way to Cheese Camp next summer!