American Cheese Society Festival 2014

As a cheese lover, you might be as biased as I was before I attended the American Cheese Festival in Sacramento this summer. With the extensive variety of cheeses from Italy, France, Denmark, Netherlands and really, all regions of Europe, American cheese has long been underappreciated. I was certainly guilty of that.

Every year sometime in the middle of summer, the American Cheese Society holds their annual conference, or as I prefer to call it, their festival, where hundreds of American cheesemakers exhibit their mild, moderate and pungent cheeses for all to sniff, savor and salivate over. More than just a smorgasbord of every American cheese you’ve never even heard of, the Society puts together a half week conference that is well worth going to not just for professionals in the industry but for any true cheese lover.

In addition to a main exhibit hall where hundreds of American cheesemakers are gathered, there are numerous smaller function rooms where lectures, discussions and in-depth tastings take place. You can take your pick which ones interest you. This year, I attended the Cheese, Salame & Microbes lecture and tasting by the proprietors of Jasper Hill Farm, Framani and The Dutton Lab and the Cheeses & Olive Oil lecture and tasting led by industry veterans Sue Langstaff, Sandy Sonnenfeld and Lassa Skinner.

As someone in the food industry, I felt it was high time that I learned more about how some of my favorite foods are produced from the very makers themselves and the science behind these sophisticated processes.

Cheese, Salame & Microbes

A tasting of about 7 to 8 salames along with 5 cheeses was a fun way to end a lecture that depicted every stage of the salame making process and how salame and cheese- a well loved and infamous pairing, have so much in common, including their yeast and bacterial components. It sounds off-putting perhaps but the science behind our favorite foods is actually very fascinating.

Cheeses & Olive Oils

This lecture ended with a more thorough tasting involving 4 cheeses and olive oils. One might think that pairing cheese and olive oil- fat on fat- would be too much but with the correct pairing, it was actually delicious and savory, not overwhelming. A standout favorite was the pairing of a Chevre (from Sierra Nevada Cheese Company) with an Acolano olive oil from Lucero, Corning. I typically don’t favor goat cheese but this pairing made for a creamy, less tangy flavor, with a hint of fruitiness to it.

If you take your time to wander through the main exhibit and the hallways in between function rooms, you’ll get an endless stream of briefings on various cheeses as well as free tastings. Grab a few grapes in between to refresh your palate. Whether you’re interested in learning the nitty gritty details of how cheeses are made or you want to simply have fun (like I did) learning about the overall process and participate in taste pairings, the American Cheese Society’s yearly Festival is definitely a can’t miss for a true cheese aficionado. Tickets to this festival also make for a great gift to that cheese lover in your life.

Learn more about the American Cheese Festival