Perhaps “pandemonium” is hyperbolic, but things are usually very sedate in Des Moines during the dog days of August. So any excitement at all could lead some residents to suffer the vapors, which is sometimes confused with pandemonium. Summertime in Iowa is a time for quiet resting and the growing, shucking and eating of corn, thus preparing for winter, when nearly anything that contains liquid freezes solid.
However, this summer Des Moines hosted the annual meeting of the American Cheese Society (ACS), an organization that wouldn’t be caught dead promoting that orange-colored product by the same name. In spite of the American Cheese Society’s snooty attitude, American cheese has been used by generations of American parents to make toasted cheese sandwiches for children too finicky to consume anything more exotic than, well, toasted cheese sandwiches. You rarely run into the American toddler who insists that his or her cheese sandwich be made with Roquefort. Well, there is this one nerdy little kid but his mom is French and his father is a liberal.
There really aren’t words to describe how the members of the American Cheese Society feel about iconic cheese products such as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese which, as it turns out, seems to be a mysterious combination of chemicals, something called “whey”, yellow dyes 5 and 6 and some slightly modified and perhaps petroleum-based goop, but no cheese. And, among members of the ACS, saying “Cheese Whiz” aloud is considered grounds for dismissal, unless it is uttered with withering sarcasm and revulsion.
At this year’s exciting gathering, the judges selected five cheeses as “Best in Show”, all of them made right here in Kraft American Singles country, the good ‘ol US of A. Actually there were two ties, one for second place and one for third, so all five cheeses can claim at least a medal in the competition. Apparently, the ACS does not endorse the flipping of coins nor the pressuring of judges.
First, and capturing the gold hardware, was Little Mountain, “a mild yet complex Swiss-style Alpine cheese” from the Roelli Cheese Company in Shullsburg, Wisconsin. Wow, who knew they made cheese in Wisconsin?
The two silver medal cheeses included St. Malachi Reserve, another Alpine cheese, “with deep, almost caramel notes” from the Farm at Doe Run in Coatesville, Pennsylvania; and Buff Blue, “a deliciously buttery water-buffalo-milk blue cheese” from Bleating Heart Cheese in Tomales, California. The Clown was surprised to learn that cheeses have “notes”, just like wine, but chewier. I was not surprised that California is the place where milk from water buffalo is routinely available.
Capturing the bronze were Greensward, “a silky, intense Vacherin-style cheese” made by the Cellars at Jasper Hill and then cave finished by Murray’s Cheese in New York, and Jeff’s Select Gouda, “a well-made classic” from the Caves of Faribault in Faribault, Minnesota. Owning neither a cellar nor a cave is the main reason the Clown has not taken up cheese making.
In any case, the Clown was curious to learn if the primary consumers of cheese in America would agree with the ACS judges. Toward that end, he assembled a tribunal of voracious cheese eaters to sample and rate the winning cheeses. This panel included: Kourtney Canolicci, age 8, Healdsburg, California; Brandon Kowolski, age 9, Port Arthur, Texas; and Wyngate Amhurst Chalmers III, age 8, White Plains, New York.
The taste test, conducted under tightly controlled protocols, was held in the Clown’s kitchen.
And the winner is……well, there was no winner. The tribunal was unhappy with all five cheeses.
Here are some of the panelists’ comments. The Clown will not embarrass the individual cheese makers by matching the particular cheese to each comment. That information might result in litigation.
“Yucky, yucky, yucky. It smells like dirty socks. Quick, give me something to drink” (Brandon)
“I’m not eating that. It has little blue bugs all in it.” (Kourtney)
“You call this ‘Alpine style’? You call this ‘complex’? It has strong hints of ammonia and that’s about the only note it hits.” (Wyngate III)
“(whimpering) Mommy.” (Kourtney)
“This tastes like it’s been in a cave and got covered in bat poop. Quick, give me something to drink.” (Brandon)
“It certainly has that water-buffalo-milk texture but if there was ever butter to be savored, it’s turned rancid.” (Wyngate III)
“(bawling uncontrollably) MOMMY!” (Kourtney)
Given that the test and ratings were not resulting in the intended outcome, the Clown introduced a sixth cheese into the protocol as a control. This cheese, carefully selected at Costco, was Velveeta Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product. Note that the word “cheese” is included in the product name, albeit in the second to last position. This pasteurized and prepared product was the taste test winner. Panelists’ comments included:
“Ummm. This is taking that awful other taste out of my mouth.” (Brandon)
“Mommy, this tastes just like your cheesy-weezy samiches.” (Kourtney)
“Now here is a nicely complex pasteurized product with many and unpronounceable ingredients. The depth of the flavors are nicely melded with a smooth consistency and it leaves a lingering delicious film on the palate.” (Wyngate III)
“Please, sir, may I have another?” (Brandon)
Based on these test results, the Clown is preparing a Memorandum of Record to send to the folks at the ACS. I’m pretty certain that once, like tiny little enzymes, they digest the implications, they will ask me to become an Honorary ACS member. I’m working on an entertainment plan for next year’s conference in Denver. It would have me dive headlong into a large vat of warm macaroni and cheese, wearing only my clown shoes and a grease paint smile. American pasteurized prepared cheese products, the cheese REAL Americans want, needs a seat at the ACS table and my plan would be a PR doozie.
Observoid of the Day: “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”