Gordon Edgar, author of the memoir Cheesemonger, A Life on the Wedge, reports in two recent blog posts about his recent trip to the American Cheese Society conference in Seattle. He was a judge and also gave a reading from the book (a somewhat difficult combination, he admits).
I am not a good traveler. It kind of hurts me to admit it, but it’s true. If it’s not anxiety, it’s ailments. I knew it was risky getting on the plane to Seattle with a head full of allergy congestion, but wow… I was in serious pain by the time I landed even though it was only a 1.5 hour flight. My ears weren’t just stuffed — I had about 25% of normal hearing in my left ear, 50% in the right – but they were painful. Like someone was jabbing them with icepicks. I felt like a cheesemonger Trotsky… but then I guess I do sometimes.
When I got to the Seattle Sheraton – home of the 2010 American Cheese Society Conference – I ignored my cheesy friends, loading up on antihistamines, ordered terrible, overpriced room service, and went to bed. I had 1400-some cheeses to judge the next day.
Of course, as most of you know by now, I didn’t have to judge that many cheeses myself. I was part of 15 teams of two dairy professionals – one aesthetic judge (me and other retailers, distributors, and/or writers) and one technical judge (usually a dairy scientist). We each taste and judge a few subcategories — about 50-60 cheeses a day. Then, we taste all the winners of each subcategory to decide on a winner for Best of Show. This year, that was about 100 more cheeses.
Dr. Nana Farkye (of Cal Poly) and me were a judging team. Chutarat from the Cheese Board Collective and Bonnie from a cold storage company (that I didn’t catch the name of) were the folks who kept the cheeses coming.
I can’t count how many times I was asked, “How do you taste that many cheeses and not die?”
After lending his expert palate to the monstrously delicious task of judging cheeses, Gordon had a reading from his book at The Calf and Kid.
I had no other options, but it was kinda crazy to schedule a reading after a day of judging cheese. I imagine that in any forum where one needs to use their voice, one is never given the advice to taste cheese for 8 hours beforehand. It does not exactly limber up the larynx. But Tuesday night before the cheese conference was really the only time I could do a book event and not be in competition with the officially sanctioned parties. Though I would miss a lot of the conference goers, I figured it would be a good event mixed with Seattle-locals and cheese travelers. And I love The Calf and Kid. Sheri runs a really fabulous shop. (Plus she gave me a CD of her hubby’s punk band!) One thing I hadn’t realized was how loud it was going to be there. I had only been there once before and not all the businesses had opened yet. My addled, cheese-soaked voice had to compete with the restaurant next door. I decided I could only read short pieces. I could barely hear myself. I made everyone gather in close too. (Sheana Davis, the mastermind behind Delice de la Vallee and the Epicurean Connection organized all the cheese for the event. Pt. Reyes Toma, Nicasio Valley Cheese, Valley Ford Cheese, and Carr Valley Cheese amused the attendees when I cut my reading short-ish.) It’s always great to do a reading with a lot of cheese folks because they really get into it. When I talk about oozy, nasty Taleggio, they’ve lived it themselves. Many came up to trade stories afterwards, and many are worse than the ones I tell. It was also handy because other folks jumped in to answer questions. Despite my voice woes, it was a wonderful event. I can’t list everyone who was there but it was awesome to have cheese mentors like Judy and Charlie Creighton in the same room with some of my favorite cheese-friends, old friends, the cheese-curious, and even my agent! Thanks everyone! *Along with all my old friends and cheese friends, I also got to meet Kurt Reighley whose book United States of Americana: Backyard Chickens, Burlesque Beauties, and Handmade Bitters: A Field Guide to the New American Roots Movement comes out this week! I haven’t had a chance to crack it yet – too much cheese! – but I promise a review when I do. **There is also an account of the reading in Jeanne Carpenter’s Cheese Underground BlogCheesemonger is available in our bookstore.