Author: Barry Neild | CNN

When you collect 4,434 cheeses from 42 countries in one room to find out which is the best, a feeling of excitement inevitably floats in the air. There is also a very, very strong smell inevitably.

This stunning and almost intoxicating mix of ripening dairy products and friendly competition swirled around the UK convention center on Wednesday as 250 international judges sniffed, poked and chewed the tables groaning from the cheese to decide which should win the crown at the 2022 World Cheese Awards.

This year’s winner, gruyère from Switzerland, was finally chosen by a panel of top judges after the field was reduced first to 98 “super gold” champions and then to the final 16.

The judges described the surchoix Vorderfultigen Gourmino Le Gruyère AOP, produced by Interprofession du Gruyère, as “a truly sophisticated handmade cheese” that melts on the tongue and has notes of herbs, fruit and leather. “A cheese with a lot of flavor and a bouquet.”

Choice of the winner

So how do you pick a winning cheese from thousands?

The painstaking work began shortly after 10 a.m. at the International Conference Center on the outskirts of the Welsh city of Newport, when the judges entered the main auditorium to the lung-devastating sound of a Welsh men’s choir.

After a few minutes of unpacking, unpacking and unpacking, each of the 98 referees’ tables turned into a sharp and varied topography.

Giant wax wheels stood next to small, soft goats. There were tall blues, flat cream medallions, and impressive cheddar plates. There were cheeses in the shape of witches’ hats and flowers, cheeses wrapped in nettle leaves or covered with ash. There were simple, straight cheeses. There were dough-like cheeses, exquisitely decorated with fruit.

There were whites, oranges, blues, and even purples.

At least one cheese looked as if it had been painted by abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock.

Blind tasting

All cheeses were tasted blind, although a panel of judges selected from an army of cheese makers, vendors, writers and other experts knew more or less what they were getting their teeth into. Several famous commercial cheeses with a big name could be spotted within a mile.

At table 14, judges Danielle Bliss and Philippe Dumain started a shaky start with a disappointing Brie style product.

“It’s very one-dimensional,” Bliss said, sticking the scores into her iPad. “It may be good for cooking or baking, but it’s not the best cheese in the world. I am looking for a cheese that will take me on a journey. “

The judges were tasked with judging each of the approximately 50 cheeses according to appearance, smell, taste and mouthfeel. The best were awarded gold, silver or bronze status, and each judging table chose one as “super gold”.

At table 18, Tom Chatfield and Kazuaki Tomiyama were giving the maturing goat blue cheese a good rush and brace themselves for even greater disappointment.

“He seems to have lost some of his integrity,” Chatfield said before slicing him up. “It’s a bit overripe, you can smell ammonia, but considering he must have traveled here, I’m going to be charitable.” After consulting Tomiyama, he gets 18 out of a maximum of 35.

“If we had seen it two or three days earlier, it would have been a much better cheese.”

Next on table 18 is something resembling a moldy fig and described by its manufacturers as “enzymatic coagulation.” Still, it tastes great.

“He’s very young and very clean,” says Chatfield as the referees score 29 points. “Some cheeses have a song that goes on. It is 15 seconds, but not a full orchestra. Some cheeses will continue to sing.

Commercial advantage

As the hall is filled with cheese and people who love it, there is an optimistic mood during the early stages of judging, which breaks through the sonorous noise from the competition entries.

However, the World Cheese Awards has a serious side.

John Farrand, managing director of the Guild of Fine Food, which organized the 34th edition of the annual event in partnership with the Welsh government, says victory could push the little artisan cheesemaker into big time.

He cites the case of the Norwegian cheese producer Ostegården, who triumphed a few years ago when the owner was on the verge of retirement. The victory inspired his son to change his career plans and return to the family farm, ultimately turning the small business into a large exporter.

“Commercial success is important,” Farrand told CNN in the middle of the morning tasting sessions. “But it’s also a big slap on the back. Winning means something for them and their team that is as good as any commercial benefit. “

Organizing the event is also a big deal, Farrand added, and Wales hopes this will help attract attention to its native cheeses and the wider food industry.

This is the climax that was originally intended to pounce on Ukraine this year. The country had to postpone its host turn due to the Russian invasion.

This did not prevent 39 Ukrainian cheeses from entering the competition.

Natali Kahadi of the Ukrainian cheese distributor Ardis, who brought the reports and set up a booth off the beaten track, said the conflict hit cheese producers hard.

“But we’re still working,” she told CNN. “We don’t stop our production. We are at war with cheese.

“Bite and texture”

Returning to the judging tables, potential winners begin to emerge as the morning progresses. At table 61, Keith Kendrick and Shuman Palit identified two golden winners.

“Everything was perfectly balanced,” says Palit, tapping on a very simple cow’s milk cheese. “There was a good mouthfeel, it was wonderfully complex – and most importantly, we agreed to it.”

At table 95, Emma Young, Ben Ticehurst and Matt Lardie – three experts with over 30 years of industry experience – looked at several textured Spanish cheeses, one of which would be their “super golden” winner.

“It’s beautiful, it’s really fruity and fun,” says Young after using a cheese iron to drill a sample of the first. “Has a bit of bite and texture. It tastes like strawberry lace. “

This is the second cheese, printed with the basket patterns in which it has matured, it advances to the next round. “It’s perfect,” said Young. “This is an amazing example of Manchego.”

Cheese high

Meanwhile, on table 70, where another cheese tinged with ammonia, the judges reached for the cleansing palate of apple slices, the effort of sampling dozens of dairy products began to take its toll.

“After you eat 20 cheeses, you start dipping,” said Dutch judge Gijs Dankers. Other judges mentioned experiencing a “cheese high” and “sweat”.

Kris Lloyd, an Australian cheese maker and judge at table 17, was distraught at the quality of some of the entries. “You can tell when someone starts with really good milk and doesn’t mess with them,” she said. “But we saw a lot of mess this morning.”

Behind the judging table, Jenny Lee, who and her husband had only recently started making cheese in Torpenhow, an agricultural area in the green hills of the northern Cumbrian countryside, watched impatiently.

She hoped her cheeses did justice to the milk produced by her “hybrid” herd of Jersey, Friesian and German Federal cows.

“He’s brilliant,” she said. “We feel this cheese world is so friendly and supportive that we’re really excited to be here.”

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