Just a few days from now, 20,000 pounds of cheese will descend on Raleigh. While you shouldn’t need to take cover, you might want to head downtown.
The American Cheese Society’s annual convention, dubbed the “Cheese Rally in Raleigh,” will take place at the Raleigh Convention Center from Aug. 1 to 4. This marks the first time the conference has come to the Southeast. Recent sites include Montreal, Seattle, and Madison, Wis.
It’s not surprising they chose Raleigh. “There’s been an upswing in artisanal cheesemaking in the area,” said Nora Weiser, executive director of the ACS, “and, of course, a strong agricultural tradition.”
Some events, such as the Aug. 4 “Festival of Cheese” are accessible to the public.
Around 800 people will attend the conference, from every aspect of the industry: small producers, representatives from large companies, scientists, veterinarians, chefs, and authors. Experts will give talks during the event on topics such as taste, history, food safety, and running a business. One expert will be MaryAnne Drake, a professor of food science at NCSU, will lead a guided tasting on the cheesemaking conditions that produce different flavors.
Several sessions pay homage to the event’s location, such as a tasting entitled “North Carolina’s Bounty of Fermented Foods,” which will include beer, bread and cured meat in addition to cheese.
Temple Grandin, the famed animal scientist, will give the keynote address. Her pioneering techniques of livestock handling have informed media, books, and documentaries, even inspiring an HBO film. “Animal welfare is important, and is the topic of several sessions this year,” Weiser said. “The cheese at a fine restaurant started with an animal on a farm.”
An integral part of the event is the cheese competition. Over 1,700 cheeses, all made in North America, will compete in 100 categories, like brie, Monterey Jack, and mature cheddar. The category winners will then face off in a Best of Show competition.
In contrast to a dog show, it doesn’t take place in a big arena with adoring fans. The 34 judges do their job in a cool room. “They’re wearing lab coats. They’re very serious, silent, and intense,” said Weiser.
A highlight of the conference will be the Festival of Cheese, a Saturday night tasting event. Attendees can sample over 1,400 cheeses, including the competition winners. Other gourmet food will also be available to sample. The Festival of Cheese also features the “Wall of Cheese,” a sight to behold. “You can’t understand the quantity of cheese until you experience it,” said Weiser.
The public can get involved in several ways. The ACS is a small nonprofit and requires volunteers to run an event of this size. “No cheese skills required,” said Weiser. Volunteers will receive a ticket to the Festival of Cheese and a t-shirt.
For those who don’t have time to spare, tickets to the Festival of Cheese are also available for public purchase.
Even if you don’t have the time or money, you might want to pop into the convention center for a moment on Aug. 5. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the ACS will be selling all of the leftover cheese at sliced prices. “Some cheeses that normally sell for $30 a pound, you can get for $5,” Weiser said.
Tickets to the “Festival of Cheese”: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/235492