Food & Drink

126 cheeses, 13 judges and 2 winners: the California State Fair names the best cheeses in CA

If you ever need to taste 126 cheeses over the course of one day, you might want to grab a Diet Coke to cleanse the palate, according to Mary Dedrick, owner of Dedrick’s Cheese in Placerville.

One hundred and twenty-six is the number of cheeses Dedrick and her team of 12 judges had to evaluate May 8 at the Cal Expo for the 2019 California Commercial Cheese Competition. Twenty producers entered their cheeses for a competition meant to celebrate California cheese craftsmanship.

After the long day of taste testing, two winners emerged: A dutch-style gouda won Best of Show Cheese-Cow’s Milk category and an Ash Rind Buchette won for cheese of another milk type.

The California State Fair will recognize the winners at a special ceremony at the State Capitol on June 27. The 166th State Fair will be July 12 to 18, and competition winners will present their cheeses during the Taste of California Experience Classes during the event.

This is the second year in a row the gouda, by Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company has won, but it’s the first win for Laura Chenel, the producer of the Ash Rind Buchette, which is a type of goat cheese. Cheeses were evaluated based on appearance, aroma, texture and taste.

“It was firm, the rind was beautiful, the cheese color was consistent all the way through,” Dedrick said of the gouda. “When you put it in your mouth, it just sort of melts right there.”

The name “ash rind buchette” sounds strange enough, but its description is even more peculiar. The rind is made of vegetable ash, which is just burned up vegetables, and it contains geotrichum, a type of fungus that tastes better than it sounds, according to Dedrick.

“That cheese I had never tasted before in all my cheese world,” Dedrick said. “People talk about ‘I don’t like to eat goat cheese’... This was an example of a really beautiful goat cheese that anybody would eat.”

Vegetable ash is used in other cheeses like humboldt fog, Dedrick said, and it’s perfectly edible.

The cheese competition is important for producers because it helps get them into grocery stores and shops across the state, Dedrick said. Judges also give producers detailed notes about the quality of their cheeses so they can improve their products.