Last weekend’s American Cheese Society competition produced only one Best of Show, of course, but multiple firsts. For the first time, a blue ribbon went to a 15-year-old, who won her category and then placed third overall. For the first time, the first- and second-place cheeses were made by the same person. (Amazing, no?) For the first time, two of the top three entries were private-label cheeses matured by a retailer. And I suspect it’s the first time in the competition’s 34-year history that all three top winners are newcomers, on the market for three years or less.
Surpassing nearly 1,750 other entries, Stockinghall (above), a clothbound Cheddar from New York, took Best of Show. It is a joint endeavor. Old Chatham Creamery in Old Chatham, New York, supplies both the cheesemaker (Brian Schlatter) and the cow’s milk. Schlatter devised the recipe in collaboration with Murray’s, the New York City retailer. While still in their infancy, the 20-pound truckles are shipped to Long Island City, where experts nurture them to maturity in Murray’s state-of-the-art cheese caves. (A truckle is a cylindrical cheese, taller than it is wide.) Following the regimen for traditional English Cheddars, the young wheels are rubbed with lard and wrapped in cheesecloth to encourage a rind to form, then pampered for a year before release.
And what a splendid result: a mouth-filling Cheddar with the waxy/crumbly/creamy texture that I look for; classic Cheddar aromatics (roasted nuts, cut grass, candle wax); sly sweetness and a robust, lingering tang. I was so happy not to encounter the pineapple scent and tiresome sweetness that dominate many modern American Cheddars. Schlatter said he was aiming for a hybrid style, merging the sweet nuttiness that Swiss cultures contribute with the sulfury scent of English Cheddars. Well done, and with pasteurized milk.
First runner-up, in beauty-pageant parlance, went to Professor’s Brie, a four-ounce triple-cream square commissioned by Wegmans, the East Coast supermarket chain. Once again, Schlatter did the crafting, using Old Chatham sheep’s milk, cow’s milk and cow’s cream in proportions he would not reveal. At four days old, the squares are sent to a Wegmans facility near Rochester, where they spend about 17 days in temperature- and humidity-controlled rooms under the care of affineurs, experts in cheese aging. A pioneer in affinage at the supermarket level, Wegmans launched its program five years ago to bring unique and exclusive cheeses to its customers. Schlatter told me that Professor’s Brie and Old Chatham’s Hudson Valley Camembert are identical at birth, but the different aging environments at Wegmans and Old Chatham steer these twins in different directions.
The name honors David Galton, a retired animal-science professor at Cornell who purchased Old Chatham from its founders five years ago. (Not coincidentally, a vice president at Wegmans is Galton’s former student.) Like Stockinghall, Professor’s Brie is a triumphant example of retailers tackling and mastering affinage. I tasted Professor’s Brie at the conference’s concluding festival and found it supple, buttery and luscious, a textural pleaser albeit without the mushroom and garlic aromas of some French Brie.
What are the odds, in such a large field, that the same cheesemaker and dairy would secure the top two places? Zero to none, I would have said. The 33-year-old Schlatter is a phenom.
And now to the teenage wonder, Avery Jones, whose sheep’s-milk cheese, Aries, took third place overall. Jones is the daughter of Central Coast Creamery owner Reggie Jones, the recipient of gobs of ACS awards himself, and I am not asking how much help he gave her. Avery could not be at the conference to tell her story and receive her ribbon because her drama club was performing in Scotland. The Paso Robles, Calif., teen has her own brand, Shooting Star Creamery, but the cheeses are made at her dad’s plant. “Avery wanted to get into the game, and she had a recipe all ready,” said Lindsey Mendes, Central Coast’s cheesemaker. “She loves to be in there with us, and she’s learning how hard it is.”
The 10-pound wheels are matured for eight months and resemble a Swiss alpine cheese crossed with a Gouda. The texture is firm and friable, the aroma nutty and the finish sweet. What a debut!
And now for the bad news. Stockinghall is sold only at Murray’s in New York City and online, and current production is 30 truckles a month. That’s not even one per state.Professor’s Brie is exclusive to Wegmans. Aries, for now, is exclusive to Sigona’s Farmers Market in California. The sheep are about to go on their annual sabbatical and won’t be milked for several months.
How frustrating this must be for other retailers, who typically race to get the ACS winners in store. We can hope to see Aries in wider distribution a year from now, but the other two will remain tantalizingly out of reach for most consumers.
For the complete list of 2019 ACS competition winners, click here.