Rush to Judgment (But Not So Fast)

As we approach a new year, our thoughts turn to family and friends. Last week, the Judging & Competition Committee wrapped up our last call of the year. The main topic on the agenda was to take on the selection of judges for the 2014 Judging & Competition in Sacramento. This year, we are looking for 19 teams of judges. Finding these 38 qualified individuals is a goal that we’d like to accomplish sooner rather than later. With that said, it is not a quick process.

This year, we were approached by a number of individuals who expressed to us that they would like to judge in 2014. This is another sign that the ACS Judging & Competition is capturing the attention of people from here and abroad. The process of selection usually begins after the New Year, but we are making a concerted effort to stay ahead of the curve.

So, what are the criteria for becoming a judge? The quick answer might be that you must love cheese. If it were as simple as that, however, we would have hundreds of applicants. The more involved answer is that you must be a cheese professional with years of experience. Technical judges are more straightforward to identify. The majority of these judges come from a dairy science background and have years of academic training. While these individuals come from a number of universities from many parts of the world, we also have aesthetic judges who have had the appropriate training to be either an aesthetic or a technical judge.

Aesthetic judges come from a broader pool of professionals. They are retailers, distributors, food writers, chefs, and so on. Again, aesthetic judges, along with technical judges, need to have a keen knowledge of cheese types, make processes, and how cheeses are aged. While technical judges look for precise make processes and consistencies that hold true to the type of cheese, aesthetic judges look for the more artful and creative aspects of a cheese.

The judges have a “score up, score down” process to come up with the overall final score. Technical judges subtract points while aesthetic judges add them.

So, in the next handful of weeks, our committee will be reviewing the bios of potential judges. We will be checking to see if there is a conflict (do they have an affiliation with a cheesemaker who could enter, for instance) and if they fit the other criteria. Another thing that we keep our eye on is choosing a number of judges who may be located near the conference itself. It is both fiscally responsible and practical. We hope to lock down the majority of these judges in early 2014 so that they can plan to be in Sacramento and evaluate all of the wonderful cheeses that will be entered next summer. As we approach the shortest and coldest days of the year, it can be difficult to think of events during the long warm days of July, but that is where the committee members’ heads are, for at least part of the time. It’s all part of the preparation for a successful Judging & Competition.

Happy New Year from the J&C Committee!

Tom Kooiman
ACS Judging & Competition Chair