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 Blog Post

PA Farm Show Cheese Competition

July 06, 2017 12:00 AM
By: Guest Blogger

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​By: Kerry E. Kaylegian, Ph.D, Cheese Competition Chair

Participating in cheese contests is a long-held tradition where cheesemakers compete with their peers for prizes and recognition and receive feedback to improve their craft. Cheesemakers can enter contests at the state, regional, national and international levels. The first Pennsylvania cheese contest was held during the 2015 Farm Show. Pennsylvania has more than 75 cheesemakers and all are invited to participate.

Each contest sets its own rules. The Pennsylvania Farm Show cheese contest is limited to PA producers, who can enter up to four cheeses to be judged on their own merit for technical and aesthetic qualities in 20 categories. Cheeses are submitted as whole wheels or blocks (as they are made) to be judged on:

  • appearance and packaging,
  • flavor and aroma,
  • body and texture, and
  • cheese-specific characteristics, such as the mold color and distribution in blue-veined cheeses or the eye development in Swiss-style cheeses. 

The categories are divided between three pairs of judges to complete the judging in one day. The technical judge starts with a maximum score (65 points) and deducts points based on the technical aspects of the cheese compared to an “ideal cheese” in the given category. The aesthetic judge starts at zero and adds points to a maximum score (35 points) based on the positive qualities of the cheese. The technical score and aesthetic scores are added together to give the cheese its final score. The three highest scoring cheeses in each category are awarded first (blue), second (red) and third (white) ribbons. The categories in the Farm Show cheese competition are:

Cow Milk Cheese

  • Cheddar, Colby and Monterey Jack from cow milk
  • Flavored Cheddar, Colby and Monterey Jack from cow milk
  • Swiss and Alpine style from cow milk
  • Soft cheese from cow milk
  • Flavored soft cheese from cow milk
  • Mold-ripened cheese from cow milk
  • Semi-soft, semi-hard, and hard cheese from cow milk
  • Flavored semi-soft, semi-hard, and hard cheese from cow milk
Goat Milk Cheese
  • Soft cheese from goat milk
  • Flavored soft cheese from goat milk
  • Mold-ripened cheese from goat milk
  • Semi-soft, semi-hard, and hard cheese from goat milk
Sheep Milk Cheese
  • Unflavored cheese from sheep milk
All Milks & Mixed Milks
  • Pasta filata style
  • Feta style
  • Blue-veined
  • Washed rind and smear ripened
  • Smoked cheese 
  • Cheese from mixed milks
  • Flavored cheese from goat milk, sheep milk or mixed milks

The first-place cheese in each category moves on to the next round of judging for Best of Show. For this part of the contest, each judge tastes the winning cheese from every class and then chooses their top three choices. The scores from all judges are tallied and the top three cheeses in the entire contest are awarded the gold, silver and bronze medals for Best of Show. 

Here are some fun facts about the Pennsylvania Farm Show cheese competition:

  • Years of the contest:  three and counting!
  • Number of dairies participating:  25
  • Largest number of cheese entries:  70 (2016)
  • Largest amount of cheese received:  890 pounds (2016)
  • Smallest single piece of cheese:  4 ounces
  • Largest single piece of cheese:  200 pounds
  • Number of judges needed per contest:  6
  • Number of volunteers needed per contest:  12 

Not just anyone can be a cheese judge! The technical and aesthetic judges must have extensive knowledge of cheese manufacture and variety characteristics; they are professionals from academia, government and the cheese-making and retail industries. To learn more about cheese judging, see our “tools of the trade,” taste a piece of contest cheese and evaluate it with a cheese judge, then stop by the cheese exhibit at the 2018 Farm Show. We’ll be happy to walk you through the sensory evaluation of cheese, tell you more about how cheese is made and how to host a cheese party. Until then, have a dairy good day!​

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