Colorado creameries Fruition Farms Dairy and Creamery, Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy and Avalanche Cheese Company took home prizes from the American Cheese Society's annual competition held last weekend in, of all places, Montreal, Canada.
With 1,676 cheeses and other dairy-derived products (like butter and yogurt) entered into more than 100 categories, It was a largest pool of entries ever submitted in the annual competition.
"Cheese-making in the U.S. has taken off," says Wendy Mitchell, owner of Avalanche, which is located in Basalt, just down the valley from Aspen. Raising her own goats, which feed on a diet of Colorado wild grass and supplemental grains, allows her greater control over what she produces, and that, she says, contributes to the quality. Mitchell won awards for her Midnight Blue, a blue cheese made from goat's milk, and the hand-bandaged goat cheddar.
Fruition Farms Dairy and Creamery placed first in the unripened cheese made from sheep's milk or mixed milks open category. "We wanted to send our cheese as an entry just to get some honest feedback from the judges that critique cheeses from all over the world -- and we wanted to use that feedback to see if there were ways that we could improve it," says Alex Seidel, chef and owner of Fruition and Fruition Farms Dairy and Creamery. "Obviously we were quite surprised to find out that we had placed first."
We're not: Seidel's sheep's milk ricotta, which you can find on numerous menus in Denver (you can also buy it directly from him) is nothing short of brilliant. "I'm really proud of Jimmy Warren, who made the cheese for the contest last week. He, as well as many others, have worked so hard at the farm during this first year of the cheese production," says Seidel, adding that "through all the trials and setbacks of opening up a sheep dairy in Colorado, it has definitely given us reason to continue with what we started." In addition, he notes, "It's great to stand back for a moment and realize that we have created something unique that has been recognized as a quality product in this country."
Three Haystack Mountain cheeses also garnered awards: the Green Chili Jack, Queso de Mano, a raw milk cheese, and Camembert.
Here's a list of all the Colorado winners:
Third place for soft-ripened cheeses made from goat's milk (open category) Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy Camembert
Third place for American-made, European-style from goat's milk (open category) Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy Queso De Mano
Third place for cheddar wrapped in cloth, linen, aged up to twelve months Avalanche Cheese's Hand Bandaged Goat cheddar
Third place for Blue-veined made from goat's milk with a rind or external coating Avalanche Cheese's Midnight Blue
First place for flavor-added Monterey Jack (all milk) Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy Green Chile Jack
First place for unripened cheese made from sheep's milk or mixed milks (open category) Fruition Farms Whole Sheep's Milk Ricotta