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Judging the International Cheese Awards – ICA2016

Last year I was honoured to be asked to be a judge at the International Cheese Awards and I was delighted when I was asked back this year for more of the same. Except it’s never the same, because there are literally hundreds of categories and literally thousands of cheeses. 5000 cheeses this year in fact – making the International Cheese Awards at Nantwich the biggest and best cheese show in the world!

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The day began like no other, in the car at 7am speeding towards Nantwich. Arriving at the show ground in good time, I registered as a judge and readied myself for the judges briefing. Once I’d donned my official white coat I joined my fellow judges, Victor Hyman from the Barbakan Deli in Chorlton and Laura Barnes from Dewlay Traditional Cheese Makers in Lancashire. I was in excellent and very knowledgeable company.

We had four categories to judge at ICA2016 –
  • DP76 – Two Halves Standard Blue Stilton. Open to producers who are producing less than 1,000 tonnes annually.
  • DP77 – Two Halves Mature Blue Stilton. Open to producers who are producing less than 1,000 tonnes annually.
  • DP90 – Cheese – Any variety that contains Savoury Additives. Hard Cheese other than Cheddar. Cheese produced in UK only.
  • DP97 – Cheese – Any variety that contains Sweet Additives. Soft Cheese produced outside UK only.

We were efficient in our judging. Tasting and discussing the merits of each of the cheeses, examining their appearance, smell, texture and taste, weighing up the sometimes tiny differences between them. Loving some, liking most, disliking the minority. 

The great thing about judging is having to try new things you might not normally choose to put on your cheese board. It expands your horizons and makes you appreciate a cheese even if that cheese might not be to your normal tastes.

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I’m not generally a blue cheese fan, but trying the Stilton and learning more about what to look for and what makes a great Stilton has made me appreciate it a little more, so much so that I added a generous portion to my cheese plate at lunchtime.

Judging the four categories took us around two and a half hours. It’s surprisingly hard work and afterwards I had to sit down with a cuppa to recover myself. By the time I was rejuvenated lunchtime was upon us and it was time for a feast, followed by probably the worlds best cheese board.

At lunch La Guilde Internationale des Fromagers took their chance to induct some new members into their ranks, including Chef James Martin. I managed to film that bit, you can view the clips below on YouTube.

And this one…

After lunch the winners were announced and the Supreme Champion and winner of the Westminster Cup 2016 was Treur Kaas for their aged Jerseyhoeve Schorren. Reserve Supreme Champion and Reserve Champion Overseas was awarded to Elite Imports, whilst Champion UK went to Arla Foods with a Double Gloucester from Taw Valley Creamery.

ICA2016 was an absolutely fantastic day, exhausting yes. Will I want to eat cheese tomorrow? Maybe not, but probably by the day after. It’s a truly unique event and a truly unique experience. I’m proud to be a little part of that.

The International Cheese Awards is a two day event, day one was trade and judging day, day two (27th July 2016) the cheese pavilion doors are thrown open to the public and you can sample some of the 5000 wonderful cheeses there from all over the world. 

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You can find out more about the International Cheese Awards 2016 on their website, and you can find out more information  and buy tickets to the Nantwich Show here.

Preview: The International Cheese Awards 2016

This year will be my third visit to the International Cheese Awards at the Nantwich Show. It goes without saying that this fantastic event is the highlight of my foodie year. Last year I had the privilege of being asked to be a judge and I must have done something right, as I’ve been asked to judge again this year.

Judging takes place on trade day, which this year is on 26th July, and the massive International Cheese Awards marquee is thrown open to the public on 27th July.

This year is the 119th International Cheese Awards, which are held as part of the Nantwich Show in Cheshire. This year there have been a record breaking 4956 entries across literally hundreds of different categories of cheese, with entries from small artisan producers, to huge dairies and supermarkets.  Last years Supreme Champion  was the Greenfields Dairy Crumbly Lancashire Cheese, and I can personally vouch for this beautiful cheese, it’s a regular in our shopping basket!

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On show day (27th July) the demo kitchen is in full swing, with a host of familiar faces returning to this year’s show – including James Martin, Sean Wilson and Will Holland. Book your tickets for the demos in advance (£5 on  the Nantwich Show website) – they always sell out so quickly! Plus there’s a whole marquee of cheese to sample and explore.

As well as hosting the The International Cheese Awards 2016, the Nantwich Show is a brilliant day out for all the family, there’s so much to see and do, the Nantwich Show is apparently the biggest agricultural show in the UK, with everything from cows, sheep, pigs and pigeons to horticulture and honey. Check out the vintage cars and agricultural machinery as well as the latest in tractor technology! I know my boy would love it there!

Tickets are available on the gate priced at £18 for adults, £7 for children, £13 for senior citizens and family tickets for £45. However, if you book via the Nantwich Show website in advance, you can get discounted tickets (£15/£5/£10/£35). Your ticket covers admission to both the biggest cheese awards in the world and the largest one-day agricultural show in the UK, making it even more of a bargain!

The International Cheese Awards 2016

I can’t wait to get my judges coat on again and get sampling some of the finest cheeses from across the world. If you like cheese and want to learn a little more about the industry, I really can’t recommend the International Cheese Awards 2016 enough. It’s a HUGE marquee of cheese, and an experience every cheese lover should experience at least once in their lifetime.

You can find out more about the International Cheese Awards 2016 on their website, and you can find out more information  and buy tickets to the Nantwich Show here.

Judging the International Cheese Awards 2015

This week I went to the International Cheese Awards in Nantwich in Cheshire. I went last year and had a brilliant time, discovered some lovely new cheeses, met some nice new people, had an delicious lunch and ate an awful lot of cheese. I was looking forward to more of the same this year, but it was not to be. It was better!

I was really pleased and honoured to be invited to help judge four categories of cheese this year, these were –

– Class DP54 Derby Block, UK Creameries only
– Class DP179 Lighter Cheese (17-24% fat)
– Class DP133 Speciality Cheese, Hard Pressed
– Class DP170 Smoked Cheese

Nothing too alarming there. In fact I was delighted with those categories as they’re the kind of cheeses I would normally buy and eat anyway.

Dressed in my judges white coat with my clipboard tucked under my arm, me, two judges, both cheese experts, and a steward began judging. Each of us thoroughly examining the cheese, and my fellow judges, both industry experts, taking time to talk me through what we should be looking for and the typical characteristics of each cheese.

International Cheese Awards 2015

Thankfully we were all of a similar mind when choosing the winners, so there were no arguments. I made sure I went around afterwards too to make a note of any cheeses I especially enjoyed. It was an experience I will never forget, it’s not everyone who can say (and have the enamel badge to prove it) that they were a judge at the International Cheese Awards 2015.

After my official duties were over I ambled over to where the Irish cheeses were displayed and took part in their special cheese matching session, in which three superb Irish cheeses were matched with three equally delicious Irish whiskeys.

International Cheese Awards 2015

During this whiskey and cheese session I discovered this very, very sexy Brie style handmade Irish goats cheese. It’s was fantastically ripe and oozed seductively across the cheese board towards me. It was love at first bite!

It would be a cliché to say I was charmed by the Irish contingent, but I was. The whiskey was interesting, the cheese was so good (there was also a beer washed continental style cheese I need to find again) and the lovely chaps at Ballymaloe made exceedingly good chutneys and relishes, which went beautifully with the Irish cheeses. It can be slightly harder to find these lovely Irish cheeses in England, but I was told that Booths and some speciality cheese shops stock them, and the Ballymaloe relish is available in some supermarkets.

Full of whiskey and cheese I sat down to enjoy lunch, canapés, quiche and salad, a selection of desserts and of course an amazing cheese board. After lunch and much deliberation they announced the winner, the Supreme Champion UK of the International Cheese Awards 2015 was the Greenfields Dairy with their delicious crumbly Lancashire cheese.

The giant 83,000 sq ft cheese marquee was home to what felt like hundreds of trade stands, small artisan cheese producers to huge dairies as well as supermarkets; there was a chance to try every kind of cheese under the sun, and from all over the world.

Just to give you an idea of the scale of the awards, I made a short and slightly shonky film, but it gives you an idea of just how much cheese was there to be judged – this year I believe there were 4,615 entries – a record breaking year for the awards!

For me at least it was an incredibly memorable day, I became a cheese judge (with badge to prove it), I met some delicious cheeses and I made some new friends. Here’s to next years awards – sláinte!

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