Thursday was my busiest day at CheeseCon. I had a book signing (with Tami Parr and Max McCalman) first thing in the morning, then I was going to do a panel discussion twice in the afternoon. Since my free room (in exchange for judging) at the Sheraton was up, I had moved to Capitol Hill the night before. The B&B owner seemed shocked that I was up and out so early. The other cheese guests were still sleeping!
I had an awesome 25 minute walk downtown to the conference hotel. Awesome because the nasty heat wave had broken and the weather felt like San Francisco. I was even able to wear my yearly cheese conference uniform. You may have seen it (I’m wearing it on the cover of the book, see left).
I didn’t carry the knife or the cheese though.
It was also awesome because I just love walking through the streets of Seattle. I have visited often enough that I have good associations and memories almost everywhere I go. It feels like home because I can walk around with an attitude saying “You know, Hamburger Mary’s/The Green Cat/aFLN/that weird combo leather-new age café used to be right there.” I also got to walk city streets flying my colors: Cheese and The 415 (Thanks again for the buttons Emi!) Anyways, conference-wise, I was really touched at the signing. A lot of folks – some I’d known for years, some strangers – came up to tell me how much they liked the book. I was really touched. Usually signings are a very humbling event – people walk by trying not to make eye contact, I sit there trying not to cry – but this one really made me feel good. Thanks cheese community! Last year, I – publicly and in a personal letter – criticized the ACS for the conference panels and workshops being too big, too infomercial. When Sasha Davies — one of the main 2010 organizers – called and asked me to be on a retailer panel, and that the panel would do the same talk twice so that it could be broken down into smaller groups, well, I kinda had to say yes, even if I felt a little overwhelmed with responsibility this year. I’m really glad I did. “Last Stop: Cheese Shop” consisted of Nathan Aldridge (Murray’s Cheese),Megan Mullaney (Sickles Market), Carlos Souffrant (Zingerman’s), Tom Van Voorhees (Rogue Creamery) and me. Earlier in the day, five teams of cheesemongers had competed in the 2nd annual Merchandising competition which tested their knowledge, wrapping skills, and display abilities. They each made displays out of the same cheeses, of which my very bad picture is here: As a panel, we (twice) broke our 80 person seminar into five small groups and spent a few minutes on each display, critiquing, praising and trying to draw out discussion of what worked and what didn’t. It was actually really fun even when someone told me, “I disagree with everything you just said.” (and no, it wasn’t her display). We then did a big Q&A where we discussed many things, my favorite from a distributor annoyed (I later assumed) at having to give so much free labor to a large chain who routinely demands it in exchange for slotting. They asked us if we required (or wanted) distributors to help re-set our cases. We mocked the very concept. It comes down to simple cheese pride. We all do cheese really differently than each other – I represented the only all pre-cut store, Carlos the all cut-to-order and the other folks somewhere in the middle — but there is one thing we all agree on: no one touches our cheese but us.