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Last week I had the opportunity that every cheese lover dreams of – to go to the American Cheese Society’s National Conference in Raleigh, NC! This is the place where, once a year, all American Cheesemakers gather to share their techniques, learn from experts around the world, and compete in a cheese-off! Tillamook had the great opportunity to be a part of the conference where we sampled cheese, entered into the competition, and one Tillamook employee was even invited to speak to a room full of cheese lovers!

What was the best part? There were many, but one stands alone as THE BEST! The beer and cheese pairing with some of the area’s best local beers and cheeses from all over American? That was pretty good, but not the best. The opportunity to talk with the most accomplished cheesemakers from around the US who’s passion for cheese is palpable? That was awesome too, but not quite the best. Tasting more cheese than I previously thought was possible? Yes! That was the best part!

In case you didn’t know, cheese in America isn’t just about American cheese singles! There were over 1,700 different cheeses entered into the competition this year and attendees of the Festival of Cheese have the chance try them…ALL of them! It was amazing. From goat cheese, to sheep cheese to cow cheese – the best of the best were all there to try. I am pretty sure I nearly turned myself lactose intolerant (luckily that’s not possible)! Amazingly, none of the cheeses I tried were bad – they all had good qualities that could be appreciated.

The bad part about having the free reign to try cheeses like that? When I got back to Oregon, I was doing some grocery shopping and almost started sampling cheese straight from the deli case. I had grown accustomed to seeing a cheese I wanted to try and trying it…and that is a great way to shop!

One of the other great takeaways of being employed by a great American cheesemaker is that we get to celebrate awards given out for the hard work of our farmers, production teams, and cheesemakers. Tillamook had a great showing and out of 1,700+ cheeses entered, Tillamook took home top 3 awards for four cheeses:

First Place: Tillamook Colby
Third Place: Tillamook Special Reserve Extra Sharp Cheddar
Third Place: Hot Habanero Jack
Second Place: Unsalted Sweet Cream Butter

If you ever have the opportunity to go the American Cheese Society Conference, please do it! You will not be disappointed by what you get to experience…and taste!

- Matt of the Tillamook Team

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