The Cheese Insider

The middle of summer is upon us and it makes you wonder why it seems that summer seems to fly by, while the winters of Door County seem to drag on forever. The seasons that we are presented all have a special quality about them, but I must admit summer seems to fit me best. The grasses and fields of crops are green and bountiful, and the sight of grazing animals in the fields dominates the landscape of Wisconsin.

Cheesemakers are very busy this time of year because the animals are producing high volumes and a superior quality of milk. There are many cheesemakers that only make their cheese in the summer and early fall because the milk they use is only when the animals are grazing on the pastures of grasses and local flora. This tradition of cheesemaking has been practiced in Europe for centuries with great success.

This summer we are very pleased to have the American Cheese Society annual conference come to Madison, August 1 – 3. This organization is a leader in promoting and supporting North American Cheese. Its membership is made up of anyone involved in the industry or simply passionate about American made specialty and artisanal cheeses. Nearly 50 percent of the current membership is made up of cheese or butter makers, 19 percent are retailers, 15 percent are distributors, and the remaining groups/persons are made up of Advisors/Academics, enthusiasts/consumers, equipment suppliers, press/writers, and people involved in specialty foods.

The group was first organized in 1983 and the first conference had fewer than 150 attendees. In 1985 the first cheese judging competition associated with the conference began with 30 cheesemakers, and they entered 89 cheeses in 7 categories. Over the past 28 years the membership, conference, and competition has grown in leaps and bounds. Today there are over 1,300 members and during the last competition there were over 1,700 cheeses entered.

Hosting the conference this year in Madison, in the heart of America’s Dairyland, is very special. Wisconsin is by far and away the largest producer of specialty and artisanal cheeses, and has dominated the awards presented each year. If you have a passion for cheese you should consider attending any, or all of this year’s conference. The event is already booked to record numbers, but there is one event you might not want to miss; Saturday, August 3 at 6 pm is the Festival of Cheese, held at the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Monona Terrace in downtown Madison. This very special evening will showcase all of the cheeses (1,700+) entered in this year’s competition, and all of them are available for sampling. There will also be a number of specialty food producers that will showcase their wares during this gala evening.

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