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Vanessa Ochavillo

Three of the four of the American Cheese Society's 2014 competition Best of Show winners from left to right: Jeremy Stephenson, 1st place, from Farm for City Kids in Reading, VT; Robert Giacomini, 2nd place, from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. in Point Reyes Station; and Audrey Aponte, 3rd place, from Sprout Creek Farm in Westmont, IL.

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Vermont maker takes home national honor at Sacramento cheese event

Published: Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 - 6:27 pm

Back in 2008, Jeremy Stephenson and his team of cheese-makers and cow herders at Farm for City Kids Foundation were feeling experimental.

The Vermont artisan cheese company had a good wheel of Tarentaise, inspired by cheese makes and production methods originating in the French Alps. But Stephenson, the foundation’s program director, said he wanted to “try and get an older age cheese out of that wheel,” which was typically aged for nine months.

After three years of aging, they developed a recipe that won Best of Show at this week’s American Cheese Society’s 31st Annual Cheese Conference and Competition, held at the Sacramento Convention Center.

“This year, we entered it knowing we had a really beautifully balanced cheese … that was also complex in flavor,” Stephenson said of the winning Tarentaise Reserve, which was one of 89 cheeses that earned recognition at the convention’s awards ceremony Thursday.

The Tarentaise Reserve is a semi-hard washed rind, made from the raw milk of the foundation’s affiliated Spring Brook Farm’s Jersey cows in Reading, Vt. Though it isn’t technically a farmstead cheese, whose definition strictly refers to cheese made from a milk source from one farm, Stephenson said that his cheese company maintains the same small-scale control over the livestock of two partner farms that make the cheese artisan.

The winning cheese will be available for purchase, along with most of the 1,684 other dairy entries, including yogurt and butter, during the Festival of Cheese at 7-9:30 tonight and at a sale 11 a.m.-2 p.m. today Saturday at the Sacramento Convention Center, 1400 J St., Sacramento.

The Tarentaises generally are priced at $20-$30 a pound. Experts say that the winner matches well with any fruity red wine.

“We’re part of this really great continuum,” said Tom Kooiman, chairman of the 38-member judging committee. “The way things that were done in this country 80 years ago, 100 years ago, 200 years ago, traditions that were brought from Europe and other parts of the world that really started dying off, are becoming alive again.”

Contact The Bee’s Vanessa Ochavillo, (916) 326-5510

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About Appetizers

Chris Macias has served as The Sacramento Bee's Food & Wine writer since 2008. His writing adventures have ranged from the kitchen at French Laundry to helping pick 10 tons of zinfandel grapes with migrant farm workers in Lodi. Chris also judges regularly at food, wine and cocktail competitions around Northern California. His profile of a former gangbanger-turned-pastry-chef was included in Da Capo's "Best Food Writing 2012."

Read his Wine Buzz columns here
(916) 321-1253
Twitter: @chris_macias

Allen Pierleoni writes about casual lunchtime restaurants in The Sacramento Bee's weekly "Counter Culture" column. He covers a broad range of topics, including food, travel, books and authors. In addition to writing the weekly column "Between the Lines," he oversees the Sacramento Bee Book Club, in which well-known authors give free presentations to the public.

Read his Counter Culture reviews here
(916) 321-1128
Twitter: @apierleonisacbe

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Sacramento Bee's food critic.

Read his restaurant reviews here
(916) 321-1099
Twitter: @Blarob

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