Judging & Competition News

Cheese Categories – Making the Math Work

Every Thursday, the ACS Judging & Competition Committee comes together for a conference call to discuss the logistics, challenges and goals for the up and coming Judging & Competition. Much of our February calls were taken up by two important topics. The first was the selection of judges. Based on last year’s number of entries and the estimated number of cheeses we expect to receive in Madison, we settled on 19 teams. To give some perspective, in 2006, we had 12 teams of Judges and only 941 cheeses. This year’s number of entries will likely double that mark, and we readily accept that challenge.

The second, and most dramatic discussion, was on the review and restructuring of the competition categories. As you know, each year, small tweaks and modifications have to be made to categories so that cheesemakers better understand how to enter their cheese and feel assured that their entry correctly fits into its proper description and category. This year, Committee member and chair emeritus, John Greeley, proposed something that was perceived as radical to much of the committee. As one of the early architects of category assignments, his observation was that the judging teams were being overwhelmed by some of the larger categories. Modifications on a grander scale were in order.

So, the biggest change that you’ll see this year is the pooling of all of the cheeses with Flavor Added into category “K.” This is one of the largest growing categories in the last few years. Moving these cheeses under one umbrella gives us the ability to not only better manage the category but to have the entries judged in an even more equitable manner.

Beginning in 2013, single types of Flavor Added cheeses will have winners from all milk sources and with all types of ingredients. For example: all flavored Cheddars will be in one KE category and will not be given multiple awards in several categories if, for example, the same cheese is flavored with hot peppers and also with alcohol or herbs.

Before this review and modification, many of the Flavor Added categories were defined by their ingredients instead of criteria that reward good cheesemaking. Now the cheese is the dominant definer with “Flavor Added” as a secondary characteristic.

Further, the Open Categories have been formatted and refined to direct cheesemakers to enter cheeses that do not fit any other subcategory. The committee devoted a lot of time giving individual types of cheese specific categories for equitable evaluation.

And last but not least, for these larger categories, we’ve decided to have them judged by multiple teams. This allows an equal and manageable amount of large entries to be judged by two or more teams rather than overwhelming a single team. As you might imagine, this was talked, argued, and thought over by the entire committee until we shaped and formed this complex idea. There were times when it felt more like a Supreme Court discussion. We worked through it and came up with a consensus. For example, committee members had to think through the hidden challenges, such as how to break ties between multiple judges. Our technical advisor, Stephanie Clark, came up with a relatively simple method that is used routinely in academia, with some very helpful fine-tuning from Richard and Karen Silverston.

As you will see, our Program Director, Michelle Lee has done a superb job reformatting the layout of categories. Categories and subcategories are now more consistent, easier to identify, have simpler directions, less language and benefit from refined definitions.

It is now early March and the final categories are being loaded into our database. Who knew that February could heat up that much?

Look forward to an up and coming webinar in April. This webinar will help walk cheesemakers through the entire entry process and give you a chance to ask questions. More details on this important online forum to follow.

It is our goal to make this process clean and streamlined so that you can get back to doing what you do best. Making fine cheese.

Thank You….

Tom Kooiman, Judging & Competition Vice Chair
John Greeley, Judging & Competition Committee
David Grotenstein, Judging & Competition Committee