Last year I was privileged to be asked to help judge some amazing wines as part of the judging panel for The Peoples Choice Wine Awards.
The experience was an amazing one that led to me being asked back as a ‘super taster’ to the second round of judging, along with industry experts who really knew their stuff. It inspired me to go on and complete my WSET Level 2, in which I was thrilled to receive a distinction and I am now thinking ahead to my level three, all thanks to the experience that Peoples Choice gave me.
So less then a year on, when the opportunity came up to be a judge for another of my favourite things… cheese, I couldn’t wait to I get stuck in.
The International Cheese Awards is an annual event held in Nantwich, Cheshire, with a huge number of entrants, from all over the world, trying to earn prestigious medals and trophies. It has been going since way back in 1897 and is now part of the Nantwich Show with day 1 being judging and press and day 2 being open to the public as part of the show.
Last year I attended the event as press and was taken back with just how much cheese was being judged under one roof and this year was no exception. Over 5000 cheeses from over 30 countries involved.
On arrival I was allocated my first category where I had to meet the other judges in the team, I was the non diary representative in the team, with both the other judges having years of experience within the cheese industry.
As a team we were led through the judging by our steward. A little nervous at how my novice tastebuds would fair up against those of the experts, we set about judging, giving each cheese a score out of 10 and then agreeing on a team score. It didn’t take long to establish that my opinions and scores were pretty much on par with what the experts thought.
First up to judge was category Best USA Cheese, Extra Mature/Vintage. It was interesting to see how these top class American cheeses differed in what you expect to find in the ‘ UK Extra Mature ‘ cheeses. For me these were a little sour in flavour, but there will still a few good ones in the mix, all the cheeses are blind tasted so you don’t know that your trying until the results are announced, with the winner for this category being a cheddar from Tillamook County Creamery.
Next we went and judged DP 208 – Cheese made with 100% goats cheese, open to non UK producers only – this category was varied, with Camembert, Spanish cheese wrapped in what seemed like lard (this was very tasty) and many other interesting entrants. We all agreed however that the three top winners were Gouda style cheese that were from the Nederland’s, the winner being from DuPont Cheese.
Our final category was DP 130 – Whole Cheese, Truckle or Wheel – Cheddar. This category was a feast waiting to happen, some amazing cheese entrants here, but for me there were some standout winners, the other judges agreed – cheese that was so moorish you just didn’t want to leave. As it turned out, all three of these winners were from a maker that I buy on a regular basis – Belton Farm, they produce favourites such as Red Fox mature Red Leicester and supply to a number of supermarkets. I was really pleased that cheese that I buy again and again at home, were ones that I picked out on a blind tasting – the taste buds proved themselves again.
Also in this category was a cheese that raised a lot of conversation – A charcoal cheese, it has a very savoury almost ‘Marmite’ taste to it – I actually really enjoyed it, it turned out to be produced by The Cheshire Cheese Company.
After judging I had a wander around the various stalls, chatting to some of the producers and trying out a few of the other samples and dishes, so much so that by the time that the awards meal and winner announcements came, I was already far too full.
The entire event and the judging was a rewarding experience and I’m hoping that future opportunity to help judge food and wine continues.