Earlier this week, we mentioned this Sunday's American Cheese Society public cheese sale. But if you're like us, you may have been wondering, just what exactly is a public cheese sale? And what do they mean by "head-turning prices?"
To find out, we called Liz Campbell, editor of the ACS newsletter. She's in town for the annual conference and shed some light on why this is a must-attend event ...
First, a little background. The ACS is holding its annual conference here in Chicago, and cheesemakers from across the country have brought nearly 1,200 cheeses to present. The cheeses are judged, some given awards, and then celebrated at the grand finale event, the Festival of Cheese. There, attendees can taste the various creations, which are presented in elaborate displays, as they sip wine and chat with cheesemakers.
But when the conference and festival are over, there's always a lot of cheese leftover. A lot of cheese. Campbell said conference organizers get to work cutting up the cheese and wrapping it as soon as the festival winds down so it will be ready to sell Sunday morning. The cheeses are cut into various sizes, so you don't have to buy an entire wheel of cheese. "Depending on the size, you can get a fairly substantial block of cheese for $5," Campbell said.
That's right, $5. For artisinal cheeses that would normally sell for $20 or $30 a pound, or more. "It's an opportunity to get amazing American artisinal cheeses at an amazing price," she said.
At these prices, however, don't expect to sample before you buy (unless you plan to attend the Festival of Cheese the night before – tickets are $85). Tastings aren't available, and some cheeses may not be labeled completely. But Campbell said your odds of finding something not good are "just about zero." And you're likely to find a cheese you might otherwise never have an opportunity to taste. "A lot of them are locally based," Campbell said. "For instance, Dr. Pat Elliott from Virginia makes sheep's milk cheeses that are just sold in her area and don't normally leave. She's won awards for that cheese."
Campbell has been working with ACS for nearly eight years, and she said it's exciting to see how far American cheesemaking has come in that short time. In addition to a movement toward organic cheese, there are entirely new varieties emerging. "Early cheesemakers started by copying the European cheesemakers," she said. "Today, most cheesemakers are developing their own brands and styles of cheesemaking that are uniquely American."
The ACS cheese sale will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Sunday (7/27) at Kendall College (900 N. North Branch). Proceeds go to the ACS Cheesemaker Scholarship Fund. Cash only.