I had my strong espresso this morning, as well as pomegranate, cantaloupe, orange, almonds, walnuts, pecans and cashews. All I need now is my Manchego then I am set for hours. The American Cheese Society’s convention hotel in Sacramento featured Manchego every morning with its breakfast buffet, which helped sustain me for hours. This cheese has been one of my top cheese cravings for many years and I wanted to share some wisdom and history with you about a truly marvelous food of which I cannot seem to get enough.
If you ask a cheese lover what their favorite cheese is the name Manchego will come up more often than you might expect, given that there are hundreds of well-known cheese names in the world today. What makes Manchego a favorite is a combination of its many attributes beyond simple deliciousness. A big reason why it never fails taste-wise is that Manchego can tolerate poor handling and temperature abuse better than most others. This is partly because it is a cheese that comes from a region with harsh temperature extremes, so it has evolved to what it is today – a cheese of unparalleled keeping qualities. The long shelf life ensures that the cheese will retain its unique flavors and aromas, and will keep its delectable butter fats, and its sufficient moisture levels providing the pleasant mouthfeel, all held together in a complex protein structure. These qualities are unrivaled in Manchego’s many imitators and cognates. A cheese like today’s Manchego has been produced in the region for millennia but has only recently evolved to the world-class we know today.
The climatic conditions of La Mancha have always been challenging for an agrarian economy, as great as the soils may be. When irrigation was introduced nearly two centuries ago, the vast region became a prime location for agricultural exploits; it also became the “bread basket” of Spain. The one sheep breed that has always been able to thrive through the temperature extremes and arid conditions is the Manchega. The yield is low but the milk quality is high. It is a marvel to recognize how great a milk can be derived from such limited resources.
The 31st American Cheese Society conference has come to an end. If these annual meetings could last a few days longer it might be easier to take part in all the highlights–and spend more time with friends you only get to see once a year. But if the amount of work going in to executing the conference is taken into consideration, a shorter version might make more sense.
Each year’s conference seems to get better than the last; this places pressure on future conference organizers. How they manage to cram all the various highlights into a tight 72-hour agenda must be the greatest challenge. Before the keynote address gets the ball rolling the organizing committee has to set aside a day to administer the Certified Cheese Professional exam. If it took place during the formal conference the candidates would miss important meetings, sessions and other opportunities. This adds a day to the agenda: the afternoon before the start of the conference for the exam itself, and preparing for it the full morning before: allowing time to set up the registration area, giving the proctors their assignments and instructions, and outfitting the exam room with electrical outlets, microphone and monitors, as well as loading the exam software into the rental laptops. Continue reading ACS Wrap Up→
Tuesday was a monumental day for cheese, the thousands of hours the candidates studied for the ACS CCP exam – the third exam – was tested that afternoon. The exam-takers came from various fields within the industry: cheese makers, retailers, educators and distributors. The exam was administered and proctored by the ACS Education and Outreach Manager, Jane Bauer, the CCP committee members, and several current CCPs.
The candidates did not appear to be particularly nervous going into the exam. Most of them seemed to be cool, calm and collected, fully prepared. This suggested that this group had been studying the many facets of cheese for many months; their eligibility to sit for the exam was thoroughly vetted. Continue reading Exam Day #cheesesociety14→
If all the ACS CCP candidates can ace Tuesday’s exam it will make it a lot easier for the exam review committee. All perfect scores? It seems that everyone has been studying extra hard so maybe it could happen. There are around 230 scheduled to take the exam, about 50% more than last year! We are already looking at next year’s exam, thinking we may have to offer the exam twice to meet the forecasted demand.
Where the CCP project is headed is hard to say but we believe it has already contributed mightily to the cheese industry. The knowledge base has grown and cheese is being cared for better than ever. Quite simply, cheese is better understood and many cheese myths have been debunked. Producers may be more confident their cheeses are better represented and customers should feel more inclined to buy more cheese. The people behind the counters and cheese trolleys seem to know more than they use to; and there is a little more pride showing. The American Cheese Society’s Certified Cheese Professional program has taken the cheese wave and given it guidance and support, with positive ripple effects far beyond what is witnessed among the CCP’s themselves. Everybody’s doing it: getting to know cheeses.
There are no foods with a greater capacity to inspire passionate discourse, with a myriad of facets to consider: from animal welfare and sustainability, to nutrition and safety. This is part of the beauty of cheese study; it invites contemplation and it stimulates discussions around the globe and around the clock.
A former student emails me questions from her shop in Hong Kong; which triggers the memory of last summer’s young Provençale chèvres au lait cru – illegal for import here due to outdated and misinformed rationale; which reminds me of the upcoming FDA visit to the 31st American Cheese Society conference in Sacramento – a conference now being staged by the organization’s Denver-based administrators and a team of volunteer planning and judging committees’ members from around the country; while cheesemaker Mary Quicke readies for her full day traveling from Devon, England to be there too; while in the meantime: a cheese trolley is being set up for the evening service at a restaurant in Melbourne, who’s chef was inspired by a cheese talk given by Russell Smith – cheese expert of Down Under – also headed that way; as candidates for the Certified Cheese Professional exam are up all night cramming for the 29th of July; shepherds are releasing their flocks from their milking parlors in Portugal’s sunny Beira Baixa; while many millions of pounds of fermented milk cure on cool and damp wooden boards right here in the U.S. of A.; and young and old tummies alike are sated everywhere, including those of the crew of an international space station orbiting our planet.
It is good. Cheese is a food that is as greatly revered as it is reviled. Yet it is a food that has sustained our race for millennia and one that has been offered as a peace offering between warring parties.