I’ve just returned from a fabulous couple of days at the World Cheese Awards in Trondheim, Norway. This annual gathering of the best cheeses in the World is organised by The Guild of Fine Food. I feel incredibly privileged to be invited by the Guild to judge at the Awards for the last few years. It is always a wonderfully well organised experience and being able to take cheese up with other curd nerds is the icing on the cake (or, as I like to see it, the mould on the cheese…)!
All of the judges were invited to a reception on our first night in Trondheim. An incredible array of Norwegian cheeses greeted us as we made our way into the function room of our hotel. They ranged from soft, delicate cheeses which were just a few days old, right up to 3 year old cheeses which wouldn’t have looked out of place on the moon! Being able to chat to the producers of these cheeses was fantastic. I learned that the old cheeses are best used when crumbled into a flour-like consistency and then added into dishes, whereas the youngest cheeses are eaten alongside fruit and local oats as a breakfast dish. As always the Brunost (Norwegian brown cheese) split the room with roughly an equal number of people I spoke to loving or loathing it! (I’m in the loving it camp, in case you were wondering)
But moving on to the main event… 264 judges, from 38 different nations, convened in the Trondheim Spektrum to view, smell, feel and ultimately taste 4502 cheeses from an incredible 43 different countries. We were allocated a table of 40-50 different cheeses and, in our judging teams made up of 3 people from different backgrounds, got down to the task. I was judging with a Norwegian cheesemonger and a Dutch distributer so we had a wide range of experience. Our table had an exciting spread ranging from a young, fresh goats’ cheese up to a 3 1/2 year old Parmigiano Reggiano with 46 other cheeses in between. As judges our job was to give each cheese a score out of 35, there were a certain number of points available for the look of the cheese, the body & texture, the aroma and finally the flavour & mouthfeel. A cheese that gets 23-26 points gets a Bronze medal, 27-30 points is a Silver and any cheese achieving more than 31 points gets a Gold. We had three Gold medal cheeses on our table which we then tasted again to determine which we were going to give a Super Gold medal to. All three of us agreed on our Super Gold which then gets taken to be judged again by a different set of judges. These judges whittle the 100 Super Gold cheeses down to the top 16 which are then tasted again in front of an audience made up of the other judges, cheesemakers, and the general public.
There were 2 cheeses in the top 16 that I recognised as soon as they were described to the audience because both are made very close to us in Pangbourne – my favourite cheese of all time is our local goats’ cheese, Sinodun Hill, and I was thrilled that it made it into the top 16 for the second year running and then my favourite soft cheese, Wigmore, also made it into the final 16. We are so very lucky to have such great cheeses made in Oxfordshire & Berkshire.
The winning cheese was the only blue cheese in the top 16 and it caused quite a stir in the auditorium as it was a Norwegian cheese. Nidelven Blå is made just 2 hours from Trondheim and is named after a local river. Most of the team behind the dairy that makes it were present at the Awards and it was amazing to see their reaction when their cheese scooped the top prize. I had been able to taste the Nidelven Blå earlier on in the day and to say it melted on the tongue and created wonderful flavours in the mouth would be an understatement. It was everything that I would look for in a blue cheese and it was definitely a worthy winner.
Alongside the World Cheese Awards, the Young Cheesemonger of the Year competition was also being judged. This is organised by the Academy of Cheese and is open to cheesemongers who are under 30. The knowledge that the finalists displayed was fantastic and I loved hearing them describe their perfect cheeseboards. The winner was Lily Morris from Usk, South Wales, and she was by far the standout candidate.
In other news…
Christmas orders are now being taken both online and in store. We must have your orders back by the 4th December which may seem early but it gives us time to make sure that we can fulfil everyone’s orders.