Adventures beyond time

Adventures beyond time

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Encore: Our 2nd American Cheese Society Conference was July 22-27

Why go, you ask? We cannot resist following our curiosity about the phenomenal growth of American artisan cheese, and tracing the historical threads that link our New York state roots and families to cheese making.

Last year, we drove from the Adirondacks to Burlington Vermont for the 2008 conference. It was lovely, quaint, and too small for the crowd. Some of the sessions had to be held in tents, outdoors…picture HOT.

The 2008 conference was in Chicago…picture PRICEY. The weather was perfect. We were right downtown on Michigan Ave, with only parks between us and the Lake—we had great views of both from our 21st story room. There were grand fireworks over the park both Wed and Sat nights. Summertime in the city. It made me nostalgic for Prague, my only real city living experience. The meeting rooms were all indoors and convenient. But the tradeoff between adequate space and cost was a hard one.

This year’s events got underway on Wednesday with all day pre-conference tours, and continued with sessions through until the Saturday evening Festival of Cheese and Sunday morning cheese sale.

The Pre-Conference Tours

We arrived Tuesday night and started our week with down-home Chicago-style deep-dish pizza and locally brewed beer at Giordano’s. Nice. The Metro wasn’t running from O’Hare to the Chicago Loop…meaning a $50 taxi ride instead of $2 for the metro. Luckily, we flew to into Midway and that branch was running. But for a lot of folks, the glitch was a major inconvenience.

Wednesday I went on the Tour of Retail Cheese Shops. Two of the shops were especially great… Pastoral Artisan Cheese Shop and The South Marion Street Market and Café. I am posting photos from them.

Maybe as many as a third of the attendees were artisan cheese retailers. Everyone was sharing information on pricing, marketing, and equipping their shops. I almost got tempted to open one! It was an opportunity to rub elbows with some really nice people and a great way to spend the first day.

Russ and Meg toured the Roth Käse specialty cheese factory in Wisconsin…very brave of them because it meant a 3.5 hour each way bus trip after traveling to Chicago the day before. The photos show the facility, and the conference attendees done up in their laboratory finery.


Just to give you a flavor of the sessions…how about these?
  • The Role of the Government as a Business Development Partner
  • How Retail Stores Train Their Cheese Employees
  • Town Hall Meeting of Cheesemakers and Retailers
  • Is Cheese the New Wine?
  • Sell Them or Smell Them!
  • European Forbearers: Reinventing the Classics
  • Creating a Successful Restaurant Cheese Program
  • Strategies in Retail Cheese Pricing
  • Coffee and Cheese Pairings
  • Beer versus Wine Smackdown: Which Goes Better With Cheese?
  • Is Selling to Big Box Stores Selling Out?

Amazing passion in these discussions. The folks from Costco, Kroger, and Kraft must have felt badly outnumbered, although they carried their senses of humor with them when they came to the discussions.


It difficult to get one’s mind around the fact that there are so many different varieties of cheese; nearly 1100 types of cheese were entered in the competition for Best of each of the many categories. We had cheese at every meal, yes including breakfast. And, there was cheese to eat at the sessions…you can’t discuss coffee and cheese pairing, or have a wine and cheese smackdown, without tasting the coffee, wine, beer and the cheese.

At lunch there would be a normal conference meal, plus a tray of cheese samples in the center of the table.

Wednesday evening was a “dine-around.” The conference arranged with about 10 Chicago restaurants to have a prix fixe meal with cheeses from one company paired with each of the multiple courses. We went to Bin 36. Beehive Cheese, from Utah, did the pairings. Their “Barely Buzzed” was a 2007 competition winner…hand-rubbed with Turkish grind and lavender buds. Fantastic food!

At the Meet the Cheesemaker session we went table to table talking with cheesemakers and eating their cheeses.

A 25th Anniversary of the ACS Reception featured…cheese! Tables and tables of cheese with an open wine and beer bar.

The finale was the Festival of Cheeses where all the cheeses were on display and the 2008 Award Winners were displayed with their ribbons. Eleven hundred kinds of cheese to eat in one room at one time! Tables heaped high with cheddars, bloomy rinds, blues, butters, fresh cheeses, chevres, sheep cheeses, on and on, all to admire and eat. There was even a skyline of Chicago carved in cheese, as the photo shows.

The photos will help you get the feel…but you really do need to be there. Seeing is neither smelling nor tasting nor believing.

The photo above is of the Festival of Cheeses. If you look hard you'll see all the tables hidden among all the eating people.

The photos below show:
  • The Pastoral Cheese Shop
  • The tour group eating lunch at South Merion Street Market and Cafe
  • Cheese being sorted at Russ and Meg's tour
  • Meg in her factory finery
  • Cheese drying

The photos below are:
  • many tables full of cheese to eat
  • The cheesey skyline

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