ACS Folks: Here Are 5 Ways to Become a Wisconsite

Hey there ACS fans and friends! I know you’re traveling to Madison for the American Cheese Society this week, and you might be worrying about how to fit into our cosmopolitan world class city. Here’s my first word of advice: leave the stilettos at home and pack your Birkenstocks. Then follow these five suggestions to become a true member of America’s Dairyland.

1. Eat deep fried cheese curds until you’re sick
Just like Friday fish fries, Jell-O salads, and beer brats, deep-fried cheese curds are uniquely Wisconsin. In downtown Madison, dozens of restaurants offer deep-fried curds as an appetizer or side, and some are even transforming the once lowly fair-food into a top-shelf item. Around the Square, check out the deep fried beauties at The Old Fashioned, Tipsy Cow or Graze. For best results, pair with a local craft beer, because it’s always best to mix hot oil and cheese with a little fermented yeast.

2. Drink beer with a cheesemaker

Madison is home to a thriving craft beer culture, with a half dozen brewpubs located within a couple blocks of the Square. On July 31, buy a $10 Pub Crawl ticket at the ACS Registration desk and buy a pint to drink with one of 18 different Wisconsin cheesemakers hanging out at six different downtown taverns. Visit them all, and you can enter to win a free ACS Registration for next year.

3. Get your shop on down State Street
Madison is a university town, and in the fall, winter and spring, State Street – a pedestrian-only, six-block shopping boulevard – is crowded with students. In good news, it’s summer, so you’ll have it to yourself. Full of eclectic shops and restaurants, State Street is THE place to see and be seen in Madison. Walk to the end and enjoy an ice cream cone at the UW-Madison Union, and sit on the pier while watching sailboats cruise Lake Mendota.

4. Eat a picnic on the Capital lawn
During the lunch hour and extending well into the afternoon, the four sides of the state capital lawn transform into the city’s unofficial picnic spot for downtown workers and visitors. Grab a sandwich and cheese plate from Fromagination, walk across the street, and people watch as you enjoy a cheesy snack. Warning: the lawn is famous for its influx (some might say infestation) of squirrels, so guard that sandwich accordingly.

5. Explore the Capital City Path via B Cycle
A paved bike/walking path starts downtown and rings Lake Monona, enticing many a visitor to hop on a rented bicycle or hoof it around the lake. Buy a B-Cycle pass for just $3 – a special discount for conference attendees from the normal $5 rate (there are two stations on West Wilson, on either side of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, just one block up from the Monona Terrace) – and explore the Capital City Path for an afternoon on wheels. Find information about public restroom stops and drinking fountains at Bike Madison. Be sure and stop to feed the ducks your leftover sandwich on Lake Monona or enjoy the sunset in Olin Park. Pedal back before dark to enjoy the view of the Capital lit up at night.

Of course, it goes without saying that I’ll see you all on Saturday at the Dane County Farmer’s Market, which surrounds the Capital Square, and is the largest producer-only farmer’s market in the nation. See you there!

Your One Stop Shop for ACS Public Cheesemaker Events

With the American Cheese Society Conference and Competition in town all week at the Monona Terrace, it’s sheer cheese madness in Madison. This week will be one of the only times you’ll ever see hundreds of cheesemakers all in the same place at the same time, and many are doing special events around the state.

So, while the conference itself is aimed primarily towards cheese professionals and serious cheese enthusiasts, here’s a round-up of cheesy events where you can still meet your favorite cheesemaker and taste their cheeses.


Book Signing and Cheese Tasting with Author Janet Fletcher
Time: 6 pm
Location: Fromagination, 12 S. Carroll St., Madison
Cost: Free



Sartori Cheese Tasting
Time: Noon – 4 pm
Location: Fromagination, 12 S. Carroll St., Madison
Cost: Free

Alemar Cheese Tasting with Minnesota Cheesemaker Keith Adams
Time: 5-7 pm
Location: Fromagination, 12 S. Carroll St., Madison
Cost: Free



Sugar Brook Cheese Tasting
Time: 1-3 pm
Location: Fromagination, 12 S. Carroll St., Madison
Cost: Free

Sartori Cheese Tasting
Time: 2:30-5:30 pm
Location: Metcalfe’s Market, 726 N. Midvale Blvd., Madison
Cost: Free 

Green Dirt Farm Cheese Tasting with Missouri Cheesemaker Jacqueline Smith
Time: 3-6 pm
Location: Metcalfe’s Market, 726 N. Midvale Blvd., Madison
Cost: Free

Holland Family Farms Cheese Tasting
Time: 5-7 pm
Location: Fromagination, 12 S. Carroll St., Madison
Cost: Free

Avalanche Cheese Company Cheese Tasting with Colorado Cheesemaker Wendy Mitchell
Time: 5-7 pm
Location: Fromagination, 12 S. Carroll St., Madison
Cost: Free

Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery Tasting with Vermont Cheesemaker Joey Connor
Time: 5-7 pm
Location: Metcalfe’s Market, 726 N. Midvale Blvd., Madison
Cost: Free

ACS Meet Madison, Hosted by Underground Food Collective
Time: 5:30 – 8pm
Location: James Madison Park, 614 East Gorham Street, Madison
Cost: $20 per person, a fundraiser for the Daphne Zepos Teaching Award, purchase at

Brazos Valley Farm Cheese Tasting with Texas Cheesemaker Marc Kuehl
Time: 6-7 pm
Location: Fromagination, 12 S. Carroll St., Madison
Cost: Free



Roelli Cheese Tasting with Wisconsin Cheesemaker Chris Roelli
Time: 1 pm
Location: Fromagination, 12 S. Carroll St., Madison
Cost: Free

Avalanche Cheese Company Cheese Tasting with Colorado Cheesemaker Wendy Mitchell
Time: 4-6 pm
Location: Fromagination, 12 S. Carroll St., Madison
Cost: Free

Alemar Cheese Tasting with Minnesota Cheesemaker Keith Adams
Time: 4-6 pm
Location: Metcalfe’s Market, 726 N. Midvale Blvd., Madison
Cost: Free

Summer of Riesling Crawl
Time: 6:15 – 9 pm
Location: Fromagination, Fresco & Square Wine Company
Cost: $35 per person, purchase ticket at



Holland’s Family Cheese Tasting
Time: 11 am – 2 pm
Location: Metcalfe’s Market, 726 N. Midvale Blvd., Madison
Cost: Free

Beehive Cheese Tasting with Utah Co-Founder Jeanette Ford
Time: 11am – 3 pm
Location: Metcalfe’s Market, 726 N. Midvale Blvd., Madison
Cost: Free

Martha’s Pimento Cheese Tasting with Wisconsin Cheesemaker Martha Davis Kipcak
Time: Noon – 2 pm
Location: Metcalfe’s Market, 726 N. Midvale Blvd., Madison
Cost: Free

Specialty Foods Tasting with Treats Bake Shop, Smoking Goose Meat, Quince & Apple, Lala’s Nuts
Time: 11 am – 2 pm
Location: Fromagination, 12 S. Carroll St., Madison
Cost: Free

American Cheese Society Festival of Cheese – Taste 1,700 Cheeses!
Time: 7 – 9:30 pm
Location: Exhibition Hall, Monona Terrace, One John Nolan Drive, Madison WI
Cost: $55 per person, purchase at



American Cheese Society Cheese Sale
Time: 11 am – 2 pm
Location: Grand Terrace, Monona Terrace, One John Nolan Drive, Madison
Cost: Free, but bring cash to buy cheeses from the conference

Cheese Tasting and Reading from Cheesemonger, A Life on the Wedge, with author Gordon Edgar, America’s Coolest Cheesemonger
Time: Noon
Location: Glorioso’s Italian Market, 1011 East Brady St., Milwaukee
Cost: $35 per person, register at

Looking forward to seeing all of my cheese friends this week in Madison! Let me know if you know of other events, and I’ll add them to this list.

Cheese Geek Volunteers Unite: ACS Is Coming to Town!

Cheese geeks unite: the American Cheese Society is coming to town, and we need your help!

On July 31 – August 4, more than 900 cheese nerds from around the world will gather in Madison, Wisconsin for the 30th annual American Cheese Society annual conference and cheese competition. While the event is open to the public, you must be an ACS member and pay fairly hefty fees to attend. That’s why it’s mostly a trade-oriented event.

So here’s where you come in … on Saturday, Aug. 3, the signature event of the conference takes place: behold The Festival of Cheese. That’s when all – and we mean all – cheeses entered into competition are cut and sampled to an adoring crowd. Yes, that means more than 1,700 cheeses are in one room at one time. It’s a cheese coma in the making.

Tickets to the Festival of Cheese are $55 each, but you can attend for FREE, simply by volunteering for a shift during the conference or judging competition. In addition to a Festival of Cheese pass, you also get the awesome conference “Cheese Geek” t-shirt pictured above and a meal during your shift.

Most of all, you get to hang out with cheese nerds for eight hours and glean as much cheese information as your mind will absorb. There are a variety of volunteer opportunities available: you can help cut and plate cheeses, help unload and sort trucks o’ cheese, help prep tables for the Saturday Festival and more. It’s your choice. Sign up here to volunteer online.

ACS Conference co-chairs Sara Hill, Bob Wills and I can’t wait to welcome you to ACS this year and hope you’ll consider volunteering. We look forward to seeing you there!

Deer Creek Cheddar

When a pair of never-heard-of-before “Deer Creek” cheeses nearly swept the highly-coveted Aged Cheddar category at the American Cheese Society awards this month, the audience grew a bit quiet as Chris Gentine of The Artisan Cheese Exchange climbed the stage to collect his ribbons.

“I felt like I could hear crickets chirping in the background as I walked up there,” said Gentine, who in the past decade has developed one of the nation’s most successful marketing and export companies for American cheesemakers looking to expand abroad.

“First off, I am not a cheesemaker and would never claim to be,” added Gentine, whose business is based in Sheyboygan, Wisconsin. “So Cabot Creamery and Beecher’s Handmade Cheese (the cheesemakers who have dominated the category for the past three years) — I really respect them. They are crafting some truly amazing American Originals.”

While Gentine may not be a cheesemaker, he is a cheese geek. A licensed cheese grader for the past 15 years, his palate is sophisticated enough to tell the difference between a Grade A and Grade AA cheddar. His new line of Deer Creek specialty Cheddars are believed to be the only Grade AA Cheddars on the retail market, and that’s no accident. No cheesemaker really wants to go through the hoops to meet the higher standard, as each batch must be personally inspected by one of a handful of official State of Wisconsin certified cheese graders.

But Gentine’s got the ambition, passion and geektoidness to make it happen. That’s why he’s spent the past three years working with Wisconsin cheesemakers, affineurs and cheese graders to develop a specialty, three-year Cheddar called Deer Creek Reserve, and that is why Deer Creek Reserve is now considered to be the best Aged Cheddar (between 2-4 years) in the nation.

Both the Deer Creek and Deer Creek Reserve are made in 40-pound blocks at the Land O’ Lakes cheese plant in Kiel, long considered to produce some of the best Cheddar in the nation. The cheese is then aged and graded by Wisconsin Aging & Grading (aptly named), specifically for Gentine.

“We pull some samples from every vat, and then the team evaluates each sample,” Gentine said. “We usually narrow it down to a smaller group, and then submit it to DATCP (WI Dept of Agriculture) for their official cheese grader to analyze. From that group, he might say only two or three meet the Grade AA standard. So those are the samples we age out. This is a process we have to go through every time to meet the Grade AA standard.”

Gentine also oversees the production of two more cheeses: 1) Deer Creek The Fawn, made in 22-pound bandaged and waxed daisy wheels by Kerry Hennig at Henning’s Cheese in Kiel (this cheese took a second in its category at this year’s ACS competition), and 2) Deer Creek Vat 17, a cocktail culture Cheddar that was originally made specifically for a customer whose business model changed and could not purchase it (this cheese took second in the Aged Cheddar category).

“The Deer Creek Vat 17 is a really unique cheese,” Gentine said. “It’s got a cocktail of cultures in it that represent some of the best global Cheddars from the United Kingdom to Canada to New Zealand. It’s an amazing cheese to watch and taste, as one culture dies off, another comes to the front and the taste completely changes. We’re lucky it peaked at the right time to win at ACS.”

So now that he has these amazing, award-winning Cheddars that heretofore no one had ever seen, how can the average person buy it? That’s a good question, Gentine says. Because the wins at ACS were a surprise, he didn’t have any of the cheese yet placed in the retail market. He’s now working with distributors and specialty stores to make it available to the public, as calls are coming in from the publicity garnered from ACS.

As for future awards and accolades for the Deer Creek cheeses, don’t expect too many. Gentine says he probably won’t enter them into the American Cheese Society competition again, because he felt awkward competing against Wisconsin cheesemakers, many of whom are his clients.

“We’ll continue to make it, sell it at retail, and I’m sure we’ll be exporting the heck out of it,” Gentine said. “But I think my time on the awards stand is done. I’ll leave those honors to the cheesemakers. They’re the ones who deserve it.”

On Location at ACS: Meet the Cheesemaker in Raleigh, North Carolina

It’s that time of year again, where more than 700 cheesemakers, distributors, retailers, educators and cheese geeks like me, gather to talk shop, eat cheese, and find out what’s new in the cheese world. This year, we’re in North Carolina at “Cheese Rally in Raleigh”, the theme of the 29th annual American Cheese Society conference and competition.

Thursday is my favorite day of the conference, as mid-afternoon brings the Meet the Cheesemaker event, showcasing hundreds of cheeses from dozens of companies across North America. After asking this morning’s keynote speaker Temple Grandin, noted author and expert on humane livestock handling, what her favorite cheese was (answer: blue), I set out to find her at least two new blues, and in the process, discovered a slough of new cheeses I’ll be looking for from now on.

First up: two new Gorgonzolas from two Wisconsin companies. Hmmm … is it a bit ironic that I have to travel 950 miles to discover new Wisconsin cheeses? I may be losing my touch.

1. Glacier Gorgonzola Cheese, Carr Valley Cheese in Wisconsin. A few months ago, Carr Valley owner and Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook purchased the old blue cheese factory in Linden, Wis., and renamed it Glacier Point. He’s now making all his blues there, and for the first time, is crafting a cow’s milk Gorgonzola that is to die for. Traditional and well-balanced, this Gorg has just the right amount of salt content and blue veining. Creamy, yet crumbly, it’s got enough bite to make it interesting, but not enough to turn off a blue-veined virgin.

2. Crumbly Gorgonzola, BelGioioso Cheese in Wisconsin. A blend of cow and sheep’s milk, this cheese is crafted in 15-pound wheels. Aged 90 days, it carries a full, earthy flavor and buttery finish that probably comes from the sheep’s milk. You’ll likely find it in 8 oz retail wedges soon in your local store, as it was launched into the retail market just three weeks ago.

Next up: the washed-rind revolution. Remember when you couldn’t find a decent washed-rind cheese made in America? Those days are long gone. It seems every company is coming up with a new washed-rind cheese, and many of them are downright fabulous, including the following:

3. San Geronimo, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company in California. Biting into this two-month-old stinky washed rind cheese took me back to tasting St. Nectaire Fernier for the first time in the underground aging caves at Jean d’Alos Fromager-Affineur in Bordeaux, France. Creamy, mushroomy and supple, this new cheese from the Lafranchi Family in Marin County is a winner. Marketed as a cross between a Raclette and Fontina, this cheese is more on the order of a farmhouse French cheese. If you find it in a store, buy it all, hide it in your fridge, and don’t share.

4. Alpha Tolman, Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. Not yet on the market, this washed-rind beauty should hit retail shelves around Christmas. Currently at seven months old, this complex cheese is well on its way to becoming exceptional. Made in 20-pound wheels.

5. Wabash Erie Canal, Canal Junction Farmstead Cheese in Ohio.  At 10 months old, this Alpine style, washed-rind cheese is on the order of a traditional Gruyere, and carries notes of a Pleasant Ridge Reserve with an adjunct culture. Brian Schaltter is in his fifth year of cheesemaking, and this year’s ACS conference is his first foray into the national cheese scene. If all his future cheeses are as good as this one, I suspect we’ll see a lot more of him.

6. Glacial Lakes, Saxon Creamery in Wisconsin. This company is going through a bit of transition, having just taken on a new investment partner. Glacial Lakes is the first of what I suspect may be a new line of future cheeses. At only 98 days old, this grass-based, raw-milk cheese  cheese is creamy and buttery, with a clean dairy finish. With a little age, this cheese could be a rock star. Jerry Heimerl says he’s hoping to age a few wheels to 7 or 8 months old, which seems like an excellent idea to me.

Last but not least, more and more smaller goat dairies across the United States are handcrafting exceptional bloomy rind cheeses. These are the kinds of cheeses that don’t travel well, so if you find one in your local cheese case, by all means purchase it and enjoy it. My favorite of all these types of cheese is:

7. Three Sisters, Nettle Meadow Farm and Cheese Company in New York. This 50-acre dairy and cheesemaking company in the Southern Adirondacks milks 350 goats and 60 dairy sheep. Owners Lorraine Lambiase and Sheila Flanagan craft this delicate bloomy rind cheese, made from a combination of sheep, goat and cow milks. One word: yumolicious.

Last but not least, I have to share this amazing marketing piece from the Cellars at Jasper Hill. Packaged like a matchbook, with trading cards inside depicting each individual cheese in its repertoire, this novel little gem is miniature and adorable. Created by Zoe Brickley, sales and marketing manager, the piece replaces brochures that easily become out of date, and if the company adds or drops a cheese, they simply add or subtract a cheese card from the matchbook. Zoe hopes more cheesemakers will adopt the marketing package — and already, Beehive Cheese Company has – to create a series of American cheese trading cards. Genius, sheer genius.

All photos by Uriah Carpenter.

Events Abound for American Cheese Month

All hail American Cheese Month!

To recognize and raise awareness of the quality and diversity of American cheeses, the American Cheese Society has declared October as the First Annual American Cheese Month.American Cheese Month.

That’s good for us cheese lovers, as cheesemakers, retailers and foodies around the country have embraced the idea, scheduling hundreds of tasting events in almost all 50 states. Here’s a few events celebrating Wisconsin artisanal cheeses – check them out!

October 15: Pinot Noir & Wisconsin Cheese Pairing. Wisconsin Cheese Mart, Milwaukee.
Whether you are a foodie or just enjoy an occasional glass of wine, you will enjoy this focused tasting exploring four Pinot Noirs from different regions, expertly paired with four Wisconsin Cheeses. Location: The Wisconsin Cheese Bar, 1048 N. Old World Third St., Milwaukee. Cost: $16 in advance, $20 at the door. Purchase tickets here.

October 16: Great American Cheese and the Beverages That Love Them. Kendall College, Chicago.
Hosted by Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and Marion Street Cheese Market, this pairing event includes a guided tasting featuring cocktails by Death’s Door Spirits, beers by Goose Island Brewery and Wisconsin artisan cheeses. Held at Kendall College, 900 North Branch St., in Chicago from 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. Cost: $20 per person. Purchase tickets here.

October 18: Meet the Cheesemaker. Savory Spoon Cooking School, Ellison Bay.
The Savory Spoon Cooking School in Door County welcomes Joe Widmer, third generation cheesemaker from Theresa, Wis., for a guided cheese, and salumi tasting. Enjoy a glass of wine and listen to Joe Widmer tell the story of his family’s cheesemaking heritage. Cost: $30 per person, sold in advance. Purchase here.

October 20: American Cheese, Beer &Wine Tasting. Fromagination, Madison.
The folks at Madison’s premier cut-to-order cheese shop are hosting a free American Cheese tasting, paired with local beers and wines. The event runs from 4:00 – 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 20 at Fromagination, 12 S. Carroll St. in Madison.

October 21: Goat Cheese Tasting. Student Center, UW-Platteville.
Try nearly 50 goat cheeses from across the nation at a special tasting reception during the annual Focus on Goats Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville on Oct. 21. The goat cheese reception runs from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Pioneer Student Center on campus. You’ll taste award-winning goat cheeses, seasonal fruits, nuts and fresh-baked baguettes. A number of cheesemakers who specialize in goat milk cheeses will also be on hand to meet and greet guests. Cost: $5 at the door.

Enjoy American Cheese Month!

On Location: Sainte Maure de Touraine

Today, on day 4 of the 10-day Wisconsin Cheese Originals’ Grand Cheese Tour of France, we toured the largest castle in the Loire Valley, learned how to make Sainte Maure de Touraine, nearly got crushed by a hay loader, and sang along to French show tunes in a tiny restaurant in downtown Tours.
You know, just the usual day in the countryside of France.
After an amazing morning tour of the Chateau de Chambord, its double-helix five-story central staircase, 282 fireplaces and 426 rooms, our Wisconsin cheese bus wound its way to the La Ferme du Bois-Rond farmstead goat dairy in Pussigny, France, where the husband-wife team of Dominique and Marie-Therese Guillet provided 20 members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals with a remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime personal experience of the making of Sainte Maure de Touraine.
Sainte Maure de Touraine is an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) designated cheese, made only in the Loire Valley, about 30 miles south of Tours, in the central region of France. It gained AOC status in 1990, and today about 240 goat dairies in the region are authorized to make this raw-milk, whole goat’s milk, soft-ripened beauty.
Dominique showed us the farm, while Marie-Therese provided an amazing tour and cheesemaking demonstration in the farmstead creamery. But like any farmstead cheese, the story starts with the milk. And this is a story best told in pictures. So here we go.
A herd of 340 dairy goats, made up of eight different breeds – Poitevine, British, Toggenburg, Alpine, Nubian, Boer, Saanen and La Mancha, are milked twice a day at the farm. Quick science lesson: in order to give milk, goats must have babies. In order to have babies, goats must be bred. With a five-month gestation period, and a due-date of February 15, guess what time we arrived at the farm? That’s right, breeding season. 
For three weeks every year, Dominique puts a group of bucks (male goats) in with the does (female goats). When we visited, the bucks were only on day 4 of their 21-day breeding season and already looked tired. Dominique said some of the bucks had already lost 20 pounds due to “being so busy,” which our translator had trouble saying with a straight face.
To give a good amount of milk, goats need to eat well. Dominique feeds his goats a mixture of grains and hay everyday, and the goats get two hours on fresh pasture each morning. He couldn’t wait to show us his barn’s super-nifty hay-loading/unloading roller-coaster machine, made by French manufacturer Griffe a Foin. After a demonstration of its cab that runs on rails attached to the barn ceiling, with attached giant hay-scooping hook that he arced out above us, threatening to scoop us all up (with a smile of course), we decided we all wanted one, whether we needed it or not. It’s amazing technology that I have not seen in the U.S.
When he’s not playing with his super cool hay unloader, Dominique milks the goats twice a day. The evening milk is combined with fresh, warm morning milk, and placed into 58-gallon mini vat tubs in the farm cheesrie where it is warmed to 68 degrees F. Rennet is added and the milk is then left to coagulate for 24 hours.
The next step is hand-ladling the curd into specially curved forms, where it drains naturally. 
After it is set, the new cheese is removed from the form, and a rye straw that is marked with the AOC seal and a number indicating the producer is inserted into the middle of the cheese log. This helps the log keep its shape for the next step of the process.
Once the straw is in, the log now has enough stability to be rolled in a mixture of salt and charcoal ash, which gives it its unique grayish/blue color and contributes to its taste.
The cheese is then allowed to dry overnight before being placed in an aging room, where it is hand-turned daily for a minium of 10 days, as outlined by AOC regulations. Marie-Therese actually ages her St. Maure de Touraine for 12 days. Once a week, she ships wooden boxes, each holding 12 precious logs, out to a host of retail shops, who then have the option of aging it longer or selling it immediately. Marie-Therese told us she believes the peak time for her cheese to be eaten is at 45 days.
Keep in mind that this is a raw-milk cheese, and you’ll understand why we don’t see this cheese very often in the U.S., as American laws dictate a raw-milk cheese must be aged at least 60 days before being sold to consumers. 
After the farm and creamery tour, Marie-Therese and Dominique set up a wonderful tasting session for us, where we got to taste both fresh and aged Sainte Maure de Touraine. What a treat! Thank you so much to the Guillets for opening their farmstead dairy to a cheese geek group from Wisconsin. We appreciate you!

On Location: Paris, France

It started with a bucket list, made long ago: visit Paris and taste a raw milk Camembert before age 40.


This week, five months before my 40th birthday, I’m in Paris with 20 members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals, visiting cheese shops, tasting endless rows of bloomy rind cheeses and touring the City of Lights. Tomorrow morning we leave for Loir-et Cher to tour Chateau de Chambord and to taste goat cheese in Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine. More about that later in the week – first I have to tell you about the cheese we discovered in Paris.

Our trip started Thursday night with a visit to Sacre-Coeur Church (I can also check singing nuns off the list), a tour of the artist community in Montmarte, the Bohemian heart of Paris, and a four-course welcome dinner at  La Bonne Franquette.

Several bottles of wine, an appetizer of snails in garlic and butter sauce, onion soup, duck in orange sauce and a healthy serving of chocolate mousse later, we were a very happy bunch. There’s nothing like a stomach full of French food to help you catch up on sleep after a way-too-long overnight flight from the U.S. to France.

Friday was cheese shop day. We started with a visit to the fabulous indoor/outdoor Marche d’Aligre, a farmer’s market on steroids. There, we caught up with Gigi Cazaux, who is now living in Paris, and who, in May, published a 135-page report titled: “Application of the Concept of Terroir in the American Context: Taste of Place and Wisconsin Unpasteurized Milk Cheeses.” Gigi joined our group for the next couple of days, helping us with rudimentary functions such as ordering cafe au lait in corner bistros and navigating the interesting French world of same-sex restrooms. Thank, you Gigi!

Then it was off for two private tours of cheese shops. First, we visited Androuet, a shop with 250 cheeses, 85 percent of them being raw milk (hello to my first raw-milk Camembert!). Shop manager Jean Yves was amazingly gracious, offering us a tasting of five different French cheeses, ranging from sheep to cow to goat to raw to pasteurized.

The second stop was at Fromagerie Dubois & Fils, where the fabulous owner herself, Martine Dubois, welcomed us with a private tour and tasting of three different French cheeses. Madame Dubois has run her cheese shop for more than 40 years and carries 300 different cheeses between the retail space and her affinage caves. She specializes in carrying different cheeses cheeses from EVERY region in France. I discovered cheeses here that I never even knew existed.

As if that weren’t enough, Madame Martine then called her affineur, Hubert Quinque, who gave us each a tour of the shop’s underground caves: a catacomb of three different spaces that have aged cheeses for the last 200 years. Hubert showed us his meticulous record-keeping system, which consisted of six notebooks full of labels and hand-written notes with information on when/where and from whom each and every round of cheese had been purchased. Cheesemaker Brenda Jensen of Hidden Springs Creamery, was jealous of Hubert’s cave, admiring the stone walls, straw mats and wooden shelves. I could see her mind already thinking of new cheeses to make once she gets back to Wisconsin!

When we weren’t eating cheese, we were touring and shopping our way through Paris, with stops at the Eiffel Tower, a boat ride on the Bateaux Mouches on the Seine, and an amazing guided tour of Notre Dame Cathedral. Hearing the bells ring in Notre Dame wasn’t even on my bucket list, but I checked it off anyway. Paris is a magical place and deserves all the credit it gets. Looking forward to six more days of France and eating cheese in Tours, Bordeaux, Montpellier and Dijon. I will keep you posted!

Cheese Geeks Unite!

It’s cheese week, baby! Yep, this is the one week of the year where I seem normal. That’s because starting today, I am amazingly surrounded by more than a thousand cheese geeks, all of whom this year are trekking from across North America and descending upon Montreal in Quebec, Canada for the American Cheese Society’s 28th Annual Conference & Competition.

Held in a different city every year, this is the first time the conference has been held in Canada. However, no matter the location, the faithful few gather each year to talk shop and witness the shock and awe of more than 1,650 artisan, farmstead, and specialty cheeses from Canada, U.S.A., and Mexico.

Today and tomorrow, the cheeses are being sorted and judged, and by the end of the week, they will all be sliced and served, giving attendees a rare chance to get an up-close-and-personal look, sniff and taste at thousands of artisanal cheeses, most not available on a national retail level, as they are crafted by small, farmstead and dairy artisans and sold locally.

My glorious week of cheese eating actually started a bit early this evening, as dinner in downtown Montreal featured the famous local dish of Poutine. What is Poutine, you ask? Oh, let me tell you. It’s a big bowl of home-made, hand-cut French fries, smothered in rich and smooth beef gravy like your mother used to make, topped by a glorious smattering of fresh cheese curds. Yes, cue the angel chorus. This heavenly dish is then placed in front of you in all its glory, beckoning you to ingest all of its 13,000 calories.

Damn I love Canada. Who doesn’t love a country that specializes in a dish combining the three basic food groups – potatoes, gravy and cheese? If the rest of the week goes as well as tonight, this may be the best ACS conference ever.

Stay tuned all week, as I’ll be blogging about cheese tours, cheese seminars and of course, the cheese awards ceremony where we’ll learn who takes home the coveted Best in Show trophy. For up-to-the-second news, follow all of us cheese geeks on Twitter by searching the #Cheese Society11 hashtag.  Cheese geeks unite!