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I’m not sure if the Festival of Cheese at the ACS conference was my own personal heaven or hell.

Heaven, because there was a room filled with 1800 of the most delicious cheeses around… and they let me in (thanks Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board!).

Hell, because try as I might, I had no chance of sampling them all.  Hell also, because I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from trying to sample them all.  (I got to about 125 different cheese by the end of the night for the record.)

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All of the cheeses at the festival were competitors in the ACS annual awards.  The best of show this year went to Jasper Hill‘s Winnimere (pictured above, bottom right) which is a Mont d’Or (the same style of cheese as locally made Rush Creek).  The samples of the Winnimere were excellent, with all the wonderful goopy, bubbly “aliveness” of the type, although I thought the flavor was less meaty and less barnyard-y than I’m used to.  Perhaps the fact that this year’s Winnimere was so mild actually helped it win, as Mont d’Or isn’t exactly a mainstream cheese in America yet.

An extra special shout out to Willi Lehner of Blue Mont Dairy for managing to tie himself for third place overall – for his Bandaged Cheddar and Big Sky Grana.  For what it’s worth, my favorite on the night was Willi’s Alpine Renegade.  And congratulations to all the other winners, particularly our many neighbors (Brunkow, Roelli, Hooks, Carr Valley, etc).

As I said, my favorite on the night was the Alpine Renegade, but I’ve had that many times before.  My favorite new-to-me cheese was Holland’s Family Farm Marieke Gouda.  Oddly, a few weeks after the festival I found some Holland’s Gouda for sale at the farmer’s market in Woodland Park, Colorado.  Actually, that cheesemonger had a great selection of Wisconsin cheeses, so if you happen to be in Woodland Park, check it out.  I also really enjoyed Crybaby swiss, from Arethusa Farm & Dairy which I know virtually nothing about.

If you are interested in reading more about the ACS and the Festival of cheese, I suggest you check out Jeanne Carpenter’s write up over on Cheese Underground.  Not only is she the best informed source out there for Wisconsin cheese, she also happens to have been one of the organizers for the event.  (Great job, by the way!)

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