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!
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.
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.