Lancaster Farming (January 16, 2022) – If you’ve ever wondered why photographers ask you to “Smile and say cheese!” it’s likely because they want you to envision a mouthwatering, gooey toasted cheese sandwich or a bubbling casserole of homemade mac and cheese. That might not have been exactly what the judges at the Pennsylvania Farm Show’s cheese competition had in mind for last weekend, but they surely had smiles on their faces when they sampled the artisan cheeses set before them.
The four judges — aesthetic judges Everett Presley from New Jersey and Stephanie Ciano of Massachusetts, along with technical judges Stephanie Clark and Steven Murphy from Iowa and New York, respectively — had plenty of options to select from. This year’s cheese competition featured 37 entries from 12 creameries located in seven Pennsylvania counties, with each entrant allowed to submit up to four cheeses. Entries made from cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk and mixed milks were in 10 different categories. The types ranged from traditional Cheddars to soft cheeses, hard cheeses, bloomy rind cheeses, smoked cheeses and more.
While the winners in the various cheese categories were announced from the Farm Show’s main stage on opening day, Saturday, Jan. 8, the actual judging of these entries had taken place back on Dec. 10. That’s when the judges had come together to hold their lengthy evaluation session.
The judges took into account each cheese’s appearance and make-up; body and texture; as well as flavor and aroma characteristics.
In addition to the prizes awarded within each category, the judges’ selection of three best of show winners were also announced.
Taking the blue ribbon as best in show was the “Bamboozle” cheese from Goat Rodeo Farm and Dairy in Allegheny County. This cheese had placed first in the washed rind cheese category. Beer from Cinderlands Beer Co. in Pittsburgh is used to wash this goat’s milk and cow’s milk cheese.
Goat Rodeo Farm, which has been making cheese since 2015 and competing at the Farm Show for almost as long, also scored category blue ribbons for their “Hootenanny” Gouda-style cheese and “Wild Rosemary”-flavored cheese, as well as a second-place ribbon for their cream cheese-like Chevre.
Goat Rodeo Farm’s home base is the 130-acre family-owned dairy goat farm of India and Steve Loevner. They own a herd of over 140 Alpine and Nubian goats and also use other locally sourced goat’s milk and cow’s milk to meet demand for their products. Had Farm Show competitors not been limited to entering a maximum of four cheeses, Goat Rodeo could also have entered their coffee rub Cheddar-style cheese, named “Cowboy Coffee,” and “More Cowbell,” an Alpine-style all-cow’s milk cheese.
India Loevner indicated that, while winning the best of show title yields a ribbon and “bragging rights,” perhaps the major reason they participate in the Farm Show is because of the detailed written comments they receive from the cheese competition’s judges. This feedback is a valuable resource for keeping them on top of their game.
The second-place best in show award went to Birchrun Hills Farm of Chester Springs, Chester County, for its blue-veined cheese, “Birchrun Blue,” described on its website as a “fudgy, peppery, French-style blue cheese.” Ken and Sue Miller and sons Randy and Jesse run this operation from their small family dairy farm, using milk from their 80-head Holstein herd to make raw milk cheese that is aged for at least 60 days in their underground aging facility.
The Millers’ cheesemaking began in 2006 to enhance their farm’s sustainability. Sue Miller said that in order to meet the needs of the market, their line of cheeses and cheese spreads has now grown to about 15 types. Birchrun Hills Farm has participated in all but one of the Farm Show’s cheese competitions since these contests began back in 2015.
Williamsburg, Pennsylvania’s Clover Creek Cheese Cellar took the third-place best in show award with its “Grateful Ched” cheese. As the name implies, this is a Cheddar cheese, but with a twist. The cheese flavors are enhanced by the addition of East End Brewing in Pittsburgh’s Gratitude American barleywine-style beer. It was a taste match that worked well and became a popular seller in fall 2021, said Dave Rice. He and his wife, Terry, own the cheese-making operation that’s part of their family-run dairy farm in Blair County. Clover Creek also entered their Tussey Mountain cheese, a washed-rind Raclette, in the 2022 Farm Show, earning a third-place ribbon in its category.
The Rice dairy raises grass-fed cows and only makes cheeses from spring through fall, when their cows’ milk reflects the qualities that come from pasture-grazing. The Rices started making cheese in 2007, milking their dairy herd only once per day to provide the raw milk with more milk solids and less water.
These days, David Rice runs the dairy operation while his son, Anthony, a 2014 Penn State graduate with an agriculture degree, focuses on the cheese business. The family has a small self-service cheese outlet at their farm, but mostly sell their products at local farmers markets, smaller stores and online.