August 2012 CheeseBytes: Letter from Todd Druhot

We are back from a very successful Judging & Competition in Raleigh, NC, and I would like to congratulate all of our award winners, especially our Best of Show winners: 1st Place – Beecher’s Handmade Cheese (Flagsheep), 2nd Place – Valley Shepherd Creamery (Crema de Blue), and 3rd Place – Emmi Roth USA (Roth Grand Cru Surchoix).

As a committee, we have had many successes this year, and I’d like to take this opportunity to share these with you and to thank all of the people who helped make this year a tremendous success…

For the first time in ACS history, most of the entering cheesemakers were able to log on to the ACS website to enter their cheeses via our new online entry database. Of the 254 companies entered, only 15 sent in paper entries. This new database is designed to allow cheesemakers easy access to their entries when they enter the Judging & Competition again next year.

Via our first-ever judges’ training webinars, we were able to welcome judges from all across the country and around the world and prepare them for their role as an aesthetic or technical judge, which helped save time on-site. These webinars started out as a mere thought on one of our regular calls, and then, through the work of Jane Bauer and Michelle Lee at the ACS office, this thought became a reality. We are looking forward to improving the process for next year, and we appreciate the judges’ participation in this revolutionary approach to training.

Also this year, Tom Kooiman, ACS J&C Committee Vice Chair, and Sasha Davies worked to develop an educational video to help cheesemakers with proper shipping and handling techniques.  This video, along with another member-produced video, will be posted on the ACS web site throughout the year, and we believe these videos were a major reason why we saw fewer cheeses in triage this year. Despite the hot weather, only a handful of entries required evaluation upon arrival.

For the first time in our history, ACS has made it possible for cheesemaker members to volunteer during the Judging & Competition.  The J&C Committee worked to develop a proposal for the Board, which outlined the roles cheesemakers could fill.  We appreciate the Board’s open and thoughtful consideration of our proposal, and we look forward to having more cheesemakers involved in the receiving and back-of-house roles next year in Madison.

I can’t stress enough how much I enjoy working with this committee and watching it grow. Without the help of the dedicated volunteers I’ll mention individually below, this event would not be possible. I thank each of them for their dedication to and passion for the Judging & Competition.

Recent additions to the committee include Patrick Bleck, Matt Bonano, and Max McCalman. Patrick returned after a one-year hiatus to help assist as the Quality Assurance Auditor in the judging room. He has done a fantastic job of ensuring all records for each entry are accurate and complete. Max has participated on numerous calls and served as a technical judge in this year’s competition. We look forward to their continued participation next year as an active part of the J&C Committee.

Matt served as our cooler captain and was responsible for inventorying and cataloging all of the entries in our three refrigerated coolers, plus an additional cooler to store all of the smoked cheeses. Sue Husch, from The Laurel Group, assisted Matt in the coolers to organize and deliver the cheeses to the judges and to ensure they could be located throughout their journey through the judging process.

Aside from being our go-to guy on-site for all last minute needs, like paper and masking tape, Tom Kooiman was responsible for orchestrating what we call the Back of House. This area is where all of the cheeses are staged for tempering. It was his responsibility to make sure all cheeses that were judged were returned to the coolers so they can be at the Festival of Cheese.

Our Front of House was run by John Antonelli. His complex tempering schedule was used to ensure that cheeses were delivered to the judges at the optimal temperature. He managed the volunteers and the flow of the cheeses to make sure the entries were delivered in a timely fashion. John also helped set the tone in the room, making sure everyone was calm and happy.

Leading the charge for all of the data entry was ACS’ newest staff member, Steve Binns. He, along with the assistance of Marisa Crider from The Laurel Group, entered scores for all the entries that came through the judging room doors. They did an incredible job of keeping up with the pace and working with the volunteers to ensure that data entry was completed accurately.

A special thanks to my dear friend and mentor, John Greeley. It is great to have John back in the judging room after missing last year’s conference, the first one in almost 30 years. He has helped me prepare for this opportunity for the past 11 years by taking the time to teach me about the American Cheese Society and Judging & Competition from our first meeting about “The Great Cheeses of New England.”

During my first year as Chair, David Grotenstein has been a tremendous support and has been there for the many questions that arise during the year. His commitment to the ACS Judging & Competition shows his love for all American cheese and cheesemakers.

Michelle Lee exemplifies the dedication and commitment given by the ACS staff to this event. Her support in all areas of Judging & Competition while keeping the committee on task is a huge feat and a great accomplishment. I value the friendship that has grown out of this working relationship.

My expression of gratitude would not be complete without recognizing the tremendous amount of work that Richard and Karen Silverston dedicate each year to managing the integrity of the data for Judging & Competition. Without what we fondly refer to as the “Silverston Judging & Competition Database,” on-site data collection would be nearly impossible to manage – particularly with the number of entries we received this year. This system helps keep all of the Judging & Competition information orderly, readily accessible, and stored securely. While they were not able to be here this year, they worked via phone and email to help keep things on track and were available anytime we needed help with a pressing issue.

And, of course, thanks to our judges, who evaluated more cheese than ever. Their patience, dedication to detail, and admiration for your work grows along with your number of entries.  We ask more and more of them every year, and they get it done every time.

It has been an eye-opening experience to work on this committee, beginning with my time as an aesthetic judge, then a technical judge, to the Back of House, to Vice Chair, and now, to serving as Chair. I am honored the ACS Board and staff, as well as the members, have confidence in my taking on this great challenge. It has been my sincere pleasure to work with these great people and to help bring their ideas to fruition. I am looking forward to another stellar year in 2013.

I encourage you to contact Michelle Lee, if you would like to join this committee!  Together, we can accomplish great things, and we hope to welcome you to the Judging & Competition Committee.

Here’s to another successful year!

Sincerely,

Todd Druhot
Judging & Competition Committee Chair