Virginia Is For Cheese Lovers (Part I)
Last week I got to attend the American Cheese Society (ACS) Conference in Richmond, VA. The week was jam packed with new cheese, new friends, new information, and new ideas. Upon returning home, my to-do list for Topsoil and Rain is longer than ever, in a wonderfully exciting way. There’s no way I could fit everything into a few blog posts, but I’ve decided to write two, to give a general overview of what I did at the conference and what I learned there, especially for anyone who is curious about attending next year!
Wednesday, July 31st
I spent most of the day Wednesday exploring Richmond, stopping at a wonderful Texas-style barbecue restaurant, ZZQ, as well as a few thrift stores and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Then, that evening, I got to attend an extremely cool little cheese event – a Japanese cheese tasting! There’ll be a post coming up in the Cheese Reviews that goes over all 8 of the cheeses we got to try, so I won’t get into that here, but suffice it to say it was incredible. The event was hosted by Malory Lane (@japancheeseco), a Japanese cheese specialist, and Japanese cheese professionals Aki Sakagami, Yoshihiko Sano, and Yuko Sato. Malory gave a short lecture and opened up a Q&A for us, and we got to learn a lot about cheesemaking in Japan. If you’re suffering from major FOMO right now, fear not – Malory’s Japan Cheese Co is working to bring these wonderful Japanese cheeses to the United States in the next few years. Until then, we must all wait patiently! Following that event, I met up with fellow cheese nerds Michelle Viera (@columbuscurdnerd) and Kate Kirkwood (@katekirkwood) for dinner at L’Oppossum which was wildly delicious and super fun. If you’re in Richmond any time soon, definitely make a stop there (and get the mint water (seriously)).
Thursday, August 1st
Waking up bright and early for the official start of the conference on Thursday was extremely difficult, by which I mean, I was half an hour late. But I slipped in just in time to catch the tail end of the Vermont Pancake Breakfast where I met some more cheese friends. Following that, I headed off to my first ACS Conference session – all about Making and Selling American Sheep Milk Cheese. This was incredibly exciting for me, because I love sheep’s milk cheese, and I’m hoping that someday when I’m making my own cheeses, that’s what I get to do. For now, it was just super rewarding to get to hear from some great sheep’s milk cheesemakers (from Landmark Creamery and Blackberry Farm, respectively), and learn about some of the challenges that do go into sheep’s milk cheese production.
After we finished that session, I did a tour of some of the trade tables at the conference, trying some cheeses from my friends at Gourmino, checking out the cheese books for sale (I didn’t get any because I have 17 unread books I’m working through right now, but I did add a few, like The Cheese Board Collective Works to my mental wishlist), and then headed into my next session: Physical Rehab and Prevention. I was really excited about this session because it’s something I deal with a LOT. A lot of people, including some of us doing the work, don’t realise how physically demanding cheese work can be. I personally see a chiropractor twice a week, every week, and I’m still in pretty severe pain most of the day, every day. There are other factors that play into that, of course, but a big part of it is the work itself, and so it was great to get some tips on how to work more safely, changes that can be made in the workplace to help us protect our bodies, and some stretches and things like that we can do to help target the specific areas that mongers and makers often had issues with. This session was led by Andi Wandt, of Shelburne Farms, (@andilane), and Tina Mooney, of The Fox and The Crow (@thefox_and_the_crow), and it was great! If you’re also interested in learning about how to help your body recover from physical labor, I also personally really like The Working Body.
From there, we moved into the Big event for Thursday: Meet the Cheesemaker! Picture a giant exhibit hall filled with makers with all their cheeses out for you to try. I couldn’t even begin to list all the new cheeses I tasted (though I did write them all down!), but just know this: I ate 79 cheeses in 90 minutes and I basically lost all ability to taste but it was SO WORTH IT. I have a list a mile long of future cheese reviews and some new cheeses chosen for a Secret Project and overall it was just so wonderful to get to put faces behind the names of cheeses and creameries I love! Plus, quite a few Topsoil and Rain readers came up to meet me, which was SO fun (and made me feel a little #famous).
Realistically, I probably should’ve gone home and slept after that event…but that’s not what happened. Instead, I decided last minute to go to the DZTA x Southern Cheese Guild Cheese and Cider Social. Being from the south myself, I was super excited to get to try some more Southern cheeses. In reality, my palate was completely and totally shot from Meet the Cheesemaker, and I couldn’t really taste much. Oh well! The evening was not in vain though, because there was a surprise star of the show who really stole the night…. There’s no easy way to say this, but it was the not-fried-chicken ice cream.
Even though I couldn’t taste cheese, I COULD taste these crazy weird, crazy good ice cream bars, from Life Raft Treats. Yes, ice cream bars! They are a waffle ice cream coated in cornflakes, and there’s a little chocolate covered cookie bone inside… and it might be one of the strangest things I’ve ever eaten but it was also so so so fun and actually super delicious! I loved it, I ate two, I’m heartbroken that I can’t buy them and have them shipped to me. They are so cool and so funny to me.
After all that, I finally did go home and sleep, and then on Friday I got to do some other really cool things. But we’ll save that for the next post, coming in a few days! Until then, I’m off, and I’ll be dreaming of chicken leg ice cream bars for the rest of the night.