For those of you who don't know about The Big E (Eastern States Exposition), it is our annual, regional fair with all 6 of the New England states participating. It begins on the second Friday after Labor Day and runs for 17 days. (So, this year it will be from September 13th - 29th.)
Our company, New England Cheesemaking Supply Company has a long history with the Big E because Ricki, our Cheese Queen worked at it for 12 years, selling pieces of apple pie with artisan cheese on top to promote the Massachusetts Farmstead Cheese Association.
|Ricki and her first husband, Bob (center) in 1982 at the Big E|
|1986- talking to then Governor Dukakis at their booth|
As with any fair, the agriculture center is very important at the Big E, particularly for youth groups like 4-H and FFA. There have always been all kinds of dairy related things going on, but in the last 5 years, it has expanded under the direction of Donna Woolam and the management of Elena Hovagimian to include the Northeast Gold Wine Competition and the New England Regional Cheese Competition.
The cheese contest is a way of supporting local cheese makers in at least two ways;
1) participating (and particularly, winning) gives them exposure to the public, and
2) feedback from the judges helps them develop their cheeses.
Any licensed dairy can send in as many different cheeses as they want for only $25 per cheese. The contest is held before the fair so that the winners can be displayed at the Cheese Shoppe during the 17 days of the exposition.
In the past, Ricki has helped with the competition, but this year, she was having a singing camp at her home when the competition was being held. So, she suggested to Elena that I might be able to help. I was honored, of course, and I was able to spend a few hours sorting through the cheeses and checking their classifications.
When I arrived, I met Elena and her staff in the Agriculture Office:
|Elena talking to Judy Fearn|
We walked over to the barn where the cheese and wine competitions are held. (During the fair, this becomes the Cheese Shoppe.)
|The Mallory Wine and Cheese Barn|
The barn was under construction for the judging to be held the next day. It seemed hard to believe that it would all be ready in 24 hours.
|The view from inside the barn|
Elena wasn't worried!
Sorting the Cheeses
The cheeses were stored in a refrigerator truck parked next to the barn.
|Elena was looking for a particular cheese|
Elena assigned Joanne Hurlbert and I the task of checking the cheeses to make sure they were in the right classes. At the same time we were to separate the extras from the ones that would be judged because, for the smaller cheeses, the contestants had submitted 3 samples each.
|This was the last picture I took before we swung into action. It was all a blur after that!|
We finished our work and I decided to come back the next day to take pictures of the judging.
Judging the Cheeses
Kerrie McKinstry-Jett made sure the cheeses were tempered at the right time for the judging, as she has done every year since the competition began. (She said Elena told her to do this!) Kerrie teaches at Westfield State and at Manchester Community College.
Volunteers were in the back, cutting the larger cheeses. This happens after the cheeses have been judged (the cheeses get judged in their whole form as sent by the cheesemaker). The cutting and wrapping happens after the judging in preparation for the Fair. Display pieces are cut, chunks of cheese are cut to be used at various events across the Fairgrounds as further promotion of New England Cheese.
Out front, the judges were divided into 3 teams. Each team had a technical judge, an aesthetic judge and a guest judge (usually someone learning and participating, but not voting). It was a very prestigious group, as you can see from their descriptions (taken from the Big E website cheese section):
|At left, aesthetic judge, Molly Hopper* At center, technical judge, Dr. Young W. Park**|
|At center, aesthetic judge, Mike Marois***|
|Technical judge, Kate Arding****|
|At left, technical judge, David Robinson,***** At center, aesthetic judge, Sarah Spira ******|
All information about the judges comes from the Big E website, cheese competition section. You can also see the results there from the previous contests.
* Molly Hopper
A native of Humboldt County, Molly Hopper grew up in rural Northern California, surrounded by beautiful coast line and towering redwood trees. Captivated by the products created by her local community and environment, Molly developed an inherent desire for the farm to table process. She began her career in the food and beverage industry while still in high school. As a host and bus person at Pariato’s Restaurant, Molly was taken early on by the food culture, interesting clientele and quick pace of the restaurant industry.
After high school, Molly moved across the country to attend Boston University’s College of Communications in pursuit of a degree in advertising and marketing. While in school, Molly held a variety of positions involving food service with BU’s School of Management, event planning and Free Press, and marketing and sales for Universal Pictures. She began working at Eastern Standard Kitchen and Drinks, a thriving brasserie from esteemed Boston restaurateur Garrett Harker while in her final year of school.
Upon graduation, Molly launched her career in the food industry as Marketing & Guest Relations Manager for Eastern Standard. In addition to her advertising and marketing responsibilities, Molly is now the cheese buyer and educator for the restaurant. Bridging her academic degree with her passion for people and the food industry, Molly is a restaurant manager specializing in communication across departments, marketing, special events, food education and service.
** Dr. Young W. Park
Dr. Young W. Park is a professor at the Georgia Small Ruminant Research & Extension Center, Fort Valley State University, Fort Valley, Georgia, and an adjunct professor, Department of Food Science and Technology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia. He received his B.S. from Kon Kuk University in Korea, and M.S. from the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, and Ph. D from Utah State University, Logan, Utah. He also earned a Doctor of Ministry degree at the Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois. He has authored and co-authored more than 280 publications, including 6 books and 28 book chapters.
Among his publications, the two books, titled "Handbook of Milk of Non-Bovine Mammals" and "Bioactive Components in Milk and Dairy Products," are globally demanded and renowned references. In May, 2013, the most comprehensive and updated book in the dairy field was released, which is titled, "Milk and Dairy Products in Human Nutrition." He has been known as a world expert in goat milk nutrition, chemistry and dairy goat products. His first book (2006), "Handbook of Milk of Non-Bovine Mammals," has been translated in two other languages, Spanish and Chinese, and published in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
Dr. Park has been invited as an international symposium speaker to many countries including Finland, Brazil, India, China, New Zealand, Australia, France, Spain, England, Italy, Korea, Mexico, South Africa, Canada, Argentina, and the U.S. In 2008 he was invited to Mercolactea National Dairy Show and Conference in Cordova, Argentina, to serve as one of the cheese judges for the international event.
*** Mike Marois
Mike Marois is a manager and lead cheesemonger at Provisions, in Northampton, Massachusetts. In this role, Mike is responsible for buying all the cheese and charcuterie for the store, as well as determining the direction of the cheese counter. A Pioneer Valley native, Mike has a love for New England Farmstead cheeses, and the case at Provisions shows it.
Mike first fell in love with cheese while working at a small boutique beer store in Brookline, Massachusetts. The following two years were spent at the shop and two restaurants operated by the same owners, leading him into a career in the food and service industry. In 2010, Mike began working at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge. The year he spent at Formaggio was both challenging and rewarding, giving him the training, exposure to cheeses, and introductions to cheesemakers that inspired him. Mike returned to the Pioneer Valley late in 2011, just in time to help Provisions get open.
**** Kate Arding
Kate Arding is an independent dairy consultant specializing in small-scale cheese production. She is also a co-founder of Culture, the acclaimed first national consumer cheese magazine launched in December 2008.
A native of Britain, Kate has worked in the farmhouse cheese industry for 20 years, firstly, as wholesale manager for Neal's Yard Dairy in London, where she developed extensive knowledge – and love – of the farmhouse cheese industry. In 1997 Kate moved to California to help establish Cowgirl Creamery and Tomales Bay Foods, a business modeled after Neals Yard Dairy but focusing on American artisanal and farmstead cheeses
Since 2003 Kate has worked extensively both in the United States and overseas as an independent consultant, specializing in affinage, sales and marketing, and helping small-scale cheesemakers adapt to changing market demands. As well as being on the Board of Directors for the American Cheese Society and Chair of the Society’s Regulatory and Academic Committee, she regularly judges for the American Cheese Society competition as well as for the British Cheese Awards, the World Cheese Competitions in Birmingham, UK, and in Madison, Wisconsin.
Kate is intrinsically involved with the day to day running of Culture Magazine. In addition, her photographic work on the subject of cheese and cheesemakers has been published internationally.
Kate lives in rural New York.
***** David Robinson
David Robinson is the cheese buyer for Formaggio Kitchen South End. He learned to love food as a child growing up in Taos, New Mexico. He spent the first decade of his working life cooking in some of Boston's finest restaurants, including Marcuccio's and Radius, during which time he also traveled throughout Italy and Spain. David eventually came to the realization that he didn't want to spend his life in the professional kitchen. His desire to continue working with food brought him to Formaggio Kitchen.
A trip to the Jura Mountains to pick our wheels of Comte instilled a sense of respect for the cheese itself, and also for the immense amount of toil and love that cheesemakers put into each wheel. Since 2010, David has worked to expand and refine the selection of exclusive imported cheeses for Formaggio Kitchen, and travels extensively to find and taste cheese. Each fall he goes to the Jura to choose wheels of Comte at Marcel Petit's Fort Sainte Antoine. In addition to his responsibilities at the shop, David is an educator, and teaches cheese classes at Formagio Kitchen, as well as staff trainings for Boston area restaurants.
****** Sarah Spira
Sarah Spira fell in love with cheese in London in January, 2003, when she walked past the cheese shop in the neighborhood she was staying in during a college study abroad program. Upon her return, she was thrilled to discover a cheese shop opening in her hometown. She got a job there for the summer, and fell head over heels for the romance, history, and mythology that surround cheese and cheese making.
When she graduated from college she returned to Chicago to find another cheese shop opening. Sarah walked right in and asked if they were hiring (they were). Sarah sold cheese at Marion Street Cheese Market until 2008, and then decided to pursue a graduate degree in Library Science in Boston. Her education has brought her full circle. Her undergraduate degree in anthropology drew her to the narratives of cheesemakers, and her training as librarian instilled in her the value of sharing information with our customers and helping them find and select cheeses. When she began working for Formaggio Kitchen in 2009, she felt like she had come home. Presently, she is the Domestic Cheese Buyer at Formaggio Kitchen South End. The first cheese that she remembers trying, and her all-time favorite are the sheep cheeses made in the French Pyrenees. She gets to do a bit of travel for the shop- regionally to meet with cheesemakers and select cheeses for the store. Recently, she traveled with Valerie and Ihsan to the Pyrenees to meet with the cheese producers there. This was a particularly meaningful trip because of her love for the cheeses made in the area. When she is working, it’s pretty much guaranteed that Patsy Cline will be on the playlist at some point during the day.
A few days after the judging, Elena sent me the list of winners-
Cheddar, Number of entries in class: 14
Silver - Vermont Clothbound Cheddar - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Silver - Cambridge - West River Creamery
Silver - Cabot Clothbound Cheddar - Cellars at Jasper Hill
Silver - 1 year Cheddar - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Bronze - Farmhouse Extra Sharp Cheddar - Shelburne Farms
Bronze - Organic Sharp Cheddar-Raw Milk - Neighborly Farms of Vermont
Bronze - Smith's Farmstead Sharp Cheddar - Smith's Country Cheese Inc
Colby/Jack/Brick/Muenster/ Gouda/Havarti, Number of entries in class: 9
Silver - Altavolo - Arethusa Farm Dairy
Silver - Organic Colby - Neighborly Farms of Vermont
Silver - Europa - Arethusa Farm Dairy
Bronze - Aritsan Farmstead Gouda - Shadagee Farmstead
Bronze - Organic Monterey Jack - Neighborly Farms of Vermont
Bronze - Butterkase RI - Dairy Farms Cooperative
Swiss Style, Number of entries in class: 5
Gold - Glebe Mountain Swiss - West River Creamery
Silver - Mt. Tom - Arethusa Farm Dairy
Silver - Thistle Abondance - Thistle Hill Farm
Italian Style, Number of entries in class: 6
Silver - Fresh Mozzarella - Narragansett Creamery
Silver - Burratini - Maplebrook Farm
Bronze - Mozzarella - Maplebrook Farm
Bronze - Hand Dipped Ricotta - Maplebrook Farm
Blue-Veined Cheeses - All Milks, Number of entries in class: 4
Bronze - Bayley Hazen Blue - Cellars at Jasper Hill
Bronze - Berkshire Blue Cheese - Berkshire Cheese LLC
Bronze - Belfast Bay Blue - Appleton Creamery
Flavored Soft Spreads, Number of entries in class: 6
Gold - Eastleigh Fresh - Nobscot Artisan Cheese
Bronze - Flavored Farmers Cheese - Arethusa Farm Dairy
Bronze - Goat cranberry & horseradish log - The Reynolds Barn
Bronze - Cheese spread w/Feta and Kalamata Olives - Narragansett Creamery
Bronze - Fromage Blanc - Foxboro Cheese Company
Flavored Semi-Soft - All Milks, Number of entries in class: 4
Silver - spicy peppers - Cricket Creek Farm
Bronze - garlic & herbs - Cricket Creek Farm
Bronze - Organic Jalapeno Jack - Neighborly Farms of Vermont
Bronze - curry - Cricket Creek Farm
Flavored Hard Cheese - All Milks, Number of entries in class: 13
Silver - Vermont Leyden - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Silver - Organic Savory Pepper Cheddar - Neighborly Farms of Vermont
Silver - Organic Green Onion Cheddar - Neighborly Farms of Vermont
Bronze - Garlic Cheddar - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Bronze - Truffle Bismark - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Bronze - Organic Chipotle Cheddar - Neighborly Farms of Vermont
Bronze - Cabot Tuscan Cheddar - Cabot Creamery Cooperative
Bronze - Jalapeno y Habanero - Plymouth Artisan Cheese
Bronze - Duet - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Washed Rind Cheese, Number of entries in class: 18
Gold - Willoughby - Cellars at Jasper Hill
Gold - Reading - Farms For City Kids Foundation
Gold - Tarentaise - Farms For City Kids Foundation
Gold - Pawlet - Consider Bardwell Farm
Gold - Eleven Brothers - Boston Post Dairy LLC
Gold - Original Recipe - Plymouth Artisan Cheese
Gold - Oma from von Trapp Farmstead - Cellars at Jasper Hill
Gold - Kinsman Ridge from Landoff Creamery - Cellars at Jasper Hill
Gold - Tobasi - Cricket Creek Farm
Silver - Alpha Tolman - Cellars at Jasper Hill
Bronze - Red Vask - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Flavored Soft Cheese - All Milks, Number of entries in class: 6
Bronze - Chevre in olive oil - Appleton Creamery
Bronze - Dorset - Consider Bardwell Farm
Smoked Cheeses, Number of entries in class: 9
Silver - Maple Smoked Bismark - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Bronze - Smoked Tilsit - Vermont Farmstead Cheese
Bronze - Farmhouse Smoked Cheddar - Shelburne Farms
Bronze - Maple Smoked Cheddar - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Bronze - Smith's Farmstead Smoked Cheddar - Smith's Country Cheese Inc
Bronze - Smoked cheese - Plymouth Artisan Cheese
Feta, Number of entries in class: 7
Bronze - Feta - Flying Goat Farm
Mold Ripened, Number of entries in class: 24
Gold - Ellie's Cloudy Down - Ruggles Hill
Gold - Harbison - Cellars at Jasper Hill
Silver - Alys's Eclipse - Ruggles Hill
Silver - Coupole - Vermont Creamery
Silver - Claire's Mandell Hill - Ruggles Hill
Silver - Middletown Tomme - West River Creamery
Silver - Bonne Bouche - Vermont Creamery
Bronze - Moses Sleeper - Cellars at Jasper Hill
Bronze - Bijou - Vermont Creamery
Bronze - Ada's Honor - Ruggles Hill
Bronze - Classic Blue Log - Westfield Farm Inc
Open Class, Number of entries in class: 13
Gold - Manchester - Consider Bardwell Farm
Gold - Barndance - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Gold - Tres Bonne - Boston Post Dairy LLC
Gold - Bon Pere - Boston Post Dairy LLC
Silver - Cabot Alpine Blend Cheese - Cabot Creamery Cooperative
Silver - French Alpine - Mt. Mansfield Creamery
Bronze - Maggie's Round - Cricket Creek Farm
Bronze - Cabot White Oak Cheese - Cabot Creamery Cooperative
Bronze - Cheddar Bites - Maplebrook Farm
Bronze - Smith's Farmstead Gouda - Smith's Country Cheese Inc
Bronze - Bear Hill - Grafton Village Cheese Company
Plain Soft, Number of entries in class: 5
Gold - Hand dipped Ricotta - Narragansett Creamery
Silver - Fresh Crottin - Vermont Creamery
If you're going to the Big E this year, be sure to stop by and visit the Cheese Shoppe in the Mallary Complex. For more info - http://www.thebige.com