It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!
Yesterday, I was a judge at the International Cheese Awards. I know, awesome eh! I’m like a kid in a sweet shop at the awards normally, but this time I had responsibilities. So, pull up a chair and I will give you an insight in to what really goes on behind the scenes of the best job in the world….
9pm, night before
Being super organised I get all my stuff together for the early start. Re-reading my welcome pack, I notice that I am politely reminded to bring my white coat and cheese grading iron. Google cheese grading iron. £160. What the f***! Look in wardrobe; I don’t have a white overcoat hanging around. Would my pacamac do?! Cue frantic message to press secretary, who talks me down from the ceiling while laughing her head off. Early night ensues.
Wake up in a panic that I’ve overslept. Nope, I am an hour early. I put the slow cooker on before going to bed last night and the smells woke me. Am just dozing back off when my alarm goes off at 6am. Urg. Line my stomach with some toast before heading out of the door – never eat copious amounts of cheese on an empty stomach. That way only gurgling lies!
Judges gathered, there is a quick briefing before we are sent to our first categories to begin the testing.
White coat acquired, panic over. Judges are in small groups of two or three and each group is given certain categories to judge. My group has four. I was with a swiss cheese maker and a lady from London who works in cheese wholesale. Both lovely and very knowledgeable.
And so we begin. We start the day in the soft cheese area which is pretty chilly. Category number one, a meagre eight or nine cheeses, is Scandinavian Cheese. As this is open to any type of cheese from the Scandi region, it is an eclectic mix ranging from Quark to hard cheese.
Next up, still in the chilly corner, we move on to an American cheese category. It is satisfying that the three of us are, on the whole, agreeing on each cheese. Makes it so much easier than if we had polar opposite opinions. After tasting around 10 cheeses here, I start to feel quite warm. Plus, where did I leave my taste buds? They seem to have dulled. Super steward comes to the rescue with tart apples and more water to cleanse the old palette.
Category number three is mature and farmhouse Cheddar. Oh yeah, come to momma! I love a good mature cheddar, which is lucky because we tested around 14-16 I think. There were some strong contenders here, and some had to be tried twice in order to decide on gold. You know, just to be sure!
Our final category is organic hard-pressed cheese from non UK producers. Again, this is quite an eclectic mix and as such it is a big category – around 18 cheeses. There are some corkers to be found, and again we agreed quite easily on our gold, silver and bronze.
By this point, the cheese sweats have definitely kicked in. Mixed with my hot flushes from coming off HRT, this is no joke – I may be the first person ever to spontaneously combust due to cheese consumption! Judging over, I pop out for some fresh air and watch the Nantwich Show taking shape. The show is always the day after the cheese trade day, and it is a great day for families and cheese lovers.One for your diaries next year.
I manage to sneak a pink wafer biscuit from the hospitality area. Sweet hit goes a long way to counter the cheese coma. Even if it was melting in the heat! So I am ready for round two. With my foodie friend and fellow judge Jane from HodgePodgeDays, we took the time to look around lots of the cheeses entered into the awards and speak to some of the producers on site.
Lunch! Yep, even after all that cheese there is always room for lunch. The cheeseboard is a thing of beauty but I must admit that I stuck to sweet puddings instead. Although I did sneak a couple of the Peter’s Yard charcoal crackers for research purposes!
The lunch break is also the time that industry awards are given – for those just starting in the dairy business and those who have given there whole careers to it. I love the passion that comes with everyone working in cheese and dairy in general, it is a wonderful thing.
After lunch the important announcement, the reason we are here. The winning cheese.
from over 5600 judged on the day, Supreme Champion 2017 was Bradburys Cheese with their Papillion Roquefort Revelation.
Reserve Champion was another blue, Arla’s Tuxford and Tebbut.
Our Supreme Champion Cheese @iCheeseAwards #Nantwich Papillion Roquefort Revelation #cheese #ICA2017 pic.twitter.com/L12OHf1e6c
— Bradburys Cheese (@Bradburyscheese) July 26, 2017
Winners in all of the categories, including those I judged, are listed here.
Another quick look around the exhibiting cheese makers, discovering some new gems like this Berkswell ewes milk cheese, and it is off home.
A traffic jam and a detour later, am home. In my PJs eating cereal and contemplating a cheesetox. But then I remember that I bought a selection of Wykes cheddar, and decide that I will just cheesetox for the rest of the day!
I go to bed and dream of cheese and crackers. Now, where’s that cheddar…
Thank you to the International Cheese Awards for inviting me to judge. It was an honour and an education.
SHE LOVES: cheese. Nuff said!