GUELPH — Being a judge for the Canada Cheese Awards may seem like a dream job for many foodies, but chief judge Art Hill says they often get ‘cheesed out’ after sampling up to 60 cheeses a day.
“They do. It’s a long day, we have a lot of samples,” said Hill, who is chair and a professor in Food Science at University of Guelph when not judging bries, fetas and wash rinds.
The Canada Cheese Awards is in the process of finding the cheese of the year by tasking 12 judges to blind sample some 375 cheeses over Thursday and part of Friday.
It is the only cheese competition in Canada open to those made with cow, goat, sheep or water buffalo milks.
Labels are removed and judges have no idea what cheese they are evaluating.
“Sometimes that is a problem because we don’t know what the product was intended to be,” said Hill.
Aside from the $5,000 prize for cheese of the year, producers are vying for 32 different category awards and bragging rights in the industry.
As important as the awards are, said Canada Cheese Awards president Georgs Kolesnikovs, the feedback cheese producers receive from the 12 judges is just as important.
Judges are selected from across Canada for their knowledge of the industry.
Each entry receives a score from both a technical judge and an esthetic judge and those results, as well as notes from the judges, are shared with producers.
“The feedback from the judges is the big reason people enter, because they know the chances of winning (cheese of the year) are slim,” said Kolesnikovs.
Hill said the feedback from judges is especially important for the upstart artisan cheese industry in the country.
The Canada Cheese Awards have up until now been held every two years. Kolesnikovs said the event will be annual starting this year.
2018 marks the third time the Canada Cheese Awards will name cheese of the year. Kolesnikovs founded the awards because of a lifelong love for the product.
“I fell in love with cheese when I first tasted Oka as a teenager when the (Trappist monks) still made it,” he said.
“As a consumer, I wanted some expert to tell me — you go into the shop and there’s 400 varieties of cheese — well which ones are the good cheeses? That’s what you care about,” said Kolesnikovs.
The judges worked Thursday to narrow down the winners of the 19 main categories, as well as working toward naming the top cheese in a number of special categories.
On Friday the judges will be presented with the top cheeses from each category arranged on a circular table.
“The judges just walk around and they pick their top three out of the bunch. That takes 60 to 90 minutes,” said Hill.
The winners will be announced at an April gala in Toronto, sort of like an Academy Awards for Canadian cheese.
Kolesnikovs said the previous two cheese of the year award winners appreciated the recognition.
“They both said it meant everything to their business to be known as cheese of the year,” he said.
Asked about his favourite cheese, Hill said it would be difficult to select just one.
“I like them all,” said Hill. “If I was forced to eat only one cheese — I’m Canadian — it would have to be cheddar. Especially really old cheddar.”