Appetizers

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Say cheese at this convention

07/30/2014 12:52 PM

07/31/2014 10:46 AM

This week at the Sacramento Convention Center, it’s all about the cheese.

Cheesemakers, sellers and lovers from throughout the nation convened in Sacramento on Wednesday for the 31st annual American Cheese Society conference and competition. Representing almost every state, an estimated 950 members of the cheese industry gathered at the convention center, “Celebrating the American Cheese Plate,” the conference’s official theme.

“We’re very, very happy to be here,” said ACS executive director Nora Weiser. “California is a great cheese state, across the board.”

Last year’s conference was held in Wisconsin, also famous for its cheese, she said. “We move around to different areas each year, so smaller producers have an opportunity to attend.”

For three days, cheese producers and sellers will learn more about their product, including its unique complexities. They’ll discuss such topics as FDA regulations, food safety and rind microbiology. Educational sessions will help them develop their palate and their cheese knowledge. Scores of cheesemakers will be assembled for a massive meet-and-greet with would-be sellers.

Artisanal cheese ranks among the fastest growing segments of the crafts food movement, Weiser noted. “There’s a lot of interest in the local food movement. Places like Sacramento are great for this.”

Highlighting the event with be Thursday’s award ceremonies, “the Oscars of Cheese,” Weiser said. “We had almost 1,700 entries. ... At the ceremony, there will be a lot of fun competition between the states, a lot of hooting and hollering. It’s really a testament to how hard our community works and how much these awards mean. They’re given by our peers and they’re the top honors in the industry for North American cheese producers.”

Two events will be open to the public: Friday evening’s Festival of Cheese, featuring hundreds of different cheeses for sampling along with wine and beer; and Saturday’s annual Cheese Sale featuring many of those artisanal gems at deep discounts.

In addition, 21 Sacramento restaurants paired with cheesemakers from the conference to present special cheese-centric dishes Thursday. For example, Esquire Grill teamed with Brazos Valley Cheese for cheese-stuffed squash blossoms, Bad Moon-brand cheese-stuffed tortellini and smoked Gouda mac and cheese with house-cured bacon. (For a full list of participating restaurants and menus, click here.)

For more on the conference, visit www.cheesesociety.org.

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