An Introduction to Technical Cheese Judging
Anticipation of the 2016 ACS Judging & Competition (J&C) ratcheted up a notch in April with the J&C Call for Entries. J&C Committee members were particularly excited when we surpassed the 1800 entry mark last week!
If you’ve entered your cheese(s) into the ACS J&C and are waiting to ship them to the event, you may be wondering what happens to the cheese in the hands of the ACS judges…so technical judging is the subject of this month’s CheeseBytes article.
One of the things that makes the ACS J&C so special is that your cheeses, butters, and cultured dairy products are judged by a pair of judges—one aesthetic and one technical. While aesthetic judges specialize in the art of cheese, technical judges are dedicated to the science of cheese. Most simply put, the aesthetic judge awards points for character; the technical judge subtracts points for defects in workmanship or deviations from standard of identity (if a standard exists). But there is so much more to it than that…
ACS technical judges have gained expertise through academic study, cheesemaking and affinage practice, and previous national and international judging experiences. They all share a passion for great quality cheese and have keen senses for recognizing specific characteristics. Technical judges spend years training their senses—judging is not arbitrary or opinion-based. For instance, if a technical judge does not personally “like” sulfide, the hard-boiled egg-like aroma common to aged Cheddar cheeses due to proteolysis, s/he should not subtract points unless the cheese is out of balance in sulfide flavor. Additionally, if a technical judge particularly “likes” sulfide, s/he must not influence the aesthetic judge to give more points to a cheese with sulfide flavor. Technical and aesthetic judges are not to influence each other–they work independently, and their points are added together for a final score.
Unlike livestock judging classes, ACS entries within a single class are not judged against one another or ranked. Each product is judged individually, based upon its own merit, with respect to a standard of craftsmanship. This is especially important for the Farmstead, American Originals, Flavored, and “Open” categories, where there is often no standard of identity. ACS encourages innovation—we embrace the unique characteristics that you strive for to set your products apart.
Part of the reason why we request that you specify the traditional recipe or cheese origin (when appropriate) in the comment field of your entry, is so that your cheese(s) can be evaluated against an appropriate standard (when a standard exists). In several cases, an attribute that is anticipated in one type of cheese (an asset) is inappropriate in another (a defect). For example, “rancid” aroma and flavor results from hydrolysis of milk fat, by the enzyme lipase (either native to milk or microbially-derived), yielding volatile short-chain fatty acids. Hydrolytic rancidity is expected in Asiago, Feta, Provolone, Romano and select other cheeses. If a technical judge does not detect the characteristic rancid note where expected, the cheese would be faulted as “flat/lacks flavor”. On the other hand, rancid is considered a defect in butter, yogurt, Cheddar, Jack, baby Swiss, and many other cheeses, so points would be deducted accordingly.
A benefit of entering the ACS J&C is the constructive feedback that you receive from judges on the technical and aesthetic score sheets that are completed by judge pairs. All of the characteristics listed in the “Aroma,” “Flavor,” “Texture and Body,” and “Appearance/Rind Development” categories in score sheets can be explained by science. Quality is dictated by a number of contributing factors, including but not limited to sanitation, milk quality, culture selection, temperature control, enzyme application, yeast/mold control, packaging, and affiance conditions. A judge might provide just the right information to help you pinpoint an area in your protocol that needs attention—an improvement that can make the difference in quality, shelf life, or even product sales.
The ACS J&C is all about facilitating (through constructive feedback) and rewarding (through our awards program) great cheesemaking. We are incredibly excited to receive and experience your entries this July!
J&C Vice Chair and Technical Advisor