Sunday, November 1, 2009

Judging the World Cheese Awards 2009

Originally posted on October 5th, 2009 in Facebook

Hello everyone, here is the promised update of the competition in the Canary Islands.

After a very long flight, the last 30 judges flying from London arrived in Las Palmas at 2:00AM. We were tired, but excited of being there. In Madrid, on the connection of our flight, we had bonded over the state of affairs of the British economy, the vote of Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty and the upcoming election of the host of the 2016 Olympics (Congrats Rio!!!) We had eaten some cheese, jamon and drank Rioja from the airport shops. We needed a good rest, as we knew the day ahead will be full of surprises.

The next morning after a very very light breakfast of coffee and toast, 130 judges took two buses to the Alfredo Kraus Auditorium. Upon arrival, we stepped out to the terrace and admired the gorgeous views and the clear ocean water. We were excited, almost giddy. Old acquaintances chatted and introduced the newcomers to experienced judges. Bob Farrand addressed the group and explained the rules. We were assembled in teams of 3 to 5 and given a selection of about 60 cheeses. All teams were to judge between 5 to 10 categories of cheese, ranging from spectacular hard mountain cheeses to cheese spreads. The task was to rate cheeses in an scale of 25, solely based on their flavour.

My team consisted of a British man, a German retailer, an Austrian wholesaler and me. We set up to the challenge ahead of us, dressed up in our white jackets, hat or aprons. We judged a selection of double gloucester, farmhouse cheddar, block cheddar, mountain cheeses, gruyeres, goat logs with spices, feta, cheese spreads and young washed rinds. No blue for me - my favorite family. We awarded 6 golds, 1 to a perfect farm house cheddar, two to excellent gruyeres, and three to the goat logs. We had few silvers and about 10 bronzes. I felt very happy with the selections and was excited to sign my name under each gold selection. We end up tasting 56 different cheeses.

The process took about three hours and gold selections kept pilling up in the tables at the back, I looked with anticipation at the great selection wishing I could try the winner cheese. At about 12PM John Farrand informed me that I had been selected to sit in the Supreme Judge Panel. I was perplex, as I couldn't believe that I was given the opportunity to sit along experienced judges and three members of the French Guilde des Fromarers.

I ran to grab a light lunch and chatted with my new friends and got some coaching from adorable Sarah Bates on judging the gold selections. After all, most of my knowledge I owe to her as my former manager in Sheridan's Cheesemongers in Galway, Ireland. I went back to the judging floor and was told of the new rules. I was going to taste 20 new cheeses and had to choose my favourite. I had 20 minutes to do this, before the cameras started rolling. The gold selection was overwhelming, there were great cheeses competing against awesome cheeses. I finally settled for an Appenzeller, that was nutty, lightly aged, perfectly washed and full in flavour. The paste was solid and as it had started to sweat the smell from it was decadent. (Appenzeller is Will's favourite cheese, and this one lived to its name)

The final judging started and I presented my cheese to the rest of the panel of Supreme Judges, it got high marks from my peers, but eventually only got fourth place after the Canadian winner, and two Spanish cheeses.

The winner is a Canadian cheese made in Quebec named Le Cendrillon. This cheese will most likely be available in cheese and food shops by the end of the year, but in the mean time you should try some of the other winner. Here is a link to the cheeses with highest ranks:

You can watch the video here.

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