My Trip to the Home of Cracker Barrel Cheese!
When judging a cheese, a professional doesn’t just cut a piece, stick it in his mouth, and chew.
No, that would be quite amateur indeed.
A sprightly old man named Virg stood next to three 40 pound blocks of cheese, holding a silver trier (a cheese coring tool), and prepared to use his whole body weight to drive the trier deep into the center of the cheese. He twisted a sample out, and like a scientist examines a tree’s rings to learn the story of the tree’s life, Virg looked at the cracks and texture to tell us the story of that particular batch of cheese.
He told us that after a good look, you hold the cheese closely to your nose, and take a deep whiff, like this:
Can you see the focus and intensity in his eyes?
He snapped a small piece of cheddar from the trier and told us what came next.
“…and then you put it in your mouth, and you WORK it!”
Oh how I aspire to taste cheese like this man. Every once in a while you get to meet someone wildly passionate about something they’ve been doing their whole life, and while I thought I loved cheese like no one else, I have nothing on this guy.
This memory of learning how a professional judges a cheese is one of my favorites from a three day trip I took last week to the home of Cracker Barrel Cheese in Chicago, where I spent time eating, drinking, and learning all about cheese with a handful of other wonderful bloggers.
You might wonder, what happens on a trip like this?
A whole lot of picture taking:
A whole lot of Tweeting:
A whole lot of eating:
Followed by more eating:
And a whole lot of learning:
And oh do I have a lot to share with you!
I’m thrilled to be a brand ambassador for Cracker Barrel Cheese over the next couple of months, and add a little bit of cheese to your life. I left Chicago feeling incredibly inspired not just by the different ways that you can enjoy cheese and how it’s made, but by the people of Cracker Barrel and their story.
I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that behind these products and big companies, there are actually people and families whose life work is devoted to working together to produce a product we all love.
Cracker Barrel Cheese has been making cheddar for nearly 60 years, and they have been using the same proprietary (read: top secret!) heirloom starter cultures since it was founded in 1954.
Over the years they have won some seriously respectable awards for their cheese (no fake-o awards like some companies seem to create for themselves). This year at the US Championship Cheese Contest®, out of 1704 entries, Cracker Barrel won first place in the Medium Cheddar category with its Sharp Cheddar, second in the Sharp Cheddar category with Aged Reserve, and third in the Medium Cheddar category with Extra Sharp.
…and did I mention that all of the judging was done blind???
Yeah, pretty impressive if you ask me!
Once or twice a month for the next few months, I will be sharing pairing ideas (some that you may never have thought to make before!) and some fantastic recipes using Cracker Barrel‘s award-winning array of cheddar cheeses.
Here are a few more photos from the three day trip, starting with Day 1:
From top to bottom, going left to right for each row:
- Me plowing through a big block of Cracker Barrel cheddar with a trier, the tool a judge uses to get a sample.
- Kraft Chef Mike Wisner leading the bloggers through a “Understanding the Art & Science of Cheese Pairings” session.
- A few of the amazing wines we had at a dinner at The Little Goat in Chicago. I had never seen an orange colored wine before!
- The fourth course from a six course meal cooked for us by Stephanie Izard, the chef at The Little Goat! Duck breast with shishito peppers and pistachios.
- Photo of me and the amazingly talented Stephanie Izard, winner of Top Chef Season 4 and maker of incredibly delicious food!
- The hilarious sommelier who paired all of the wines for our 6 course dinner.
Time for Day 2:
- Getting ready to board our private trolley to take us around Chicago for a gastronomic tour!
- Our first wine pouring at Webster’s Wine Bar.
- Cool decor at the oh so trendy Webster’s Wine Bar.
- Many wine glasses for the wine and cheese pairing session.
- The first of 3 cheese and chocolate pairings at Vosges Chocolate. I had no idea cheese and chocolate went so well together!!
- The cutely decorated Vosges Chocolate shop (with our trolley out the front window!)
- Me with a drink in each hand…a lavender daiquiri in one and a passionfruit chili vodka soda in the other.
- At The Haute & the Dog to taste some awesome Chicago hot dogs.
- I had a dish called the Big Bad Wolf…a sausage wrapped in bacon and topped with pulled pork and red onion. It was incredible with the Sasparilla to wash it down!
- The mixologist who gave us a private drink making session at the Public Hotel we stayed at. That guy has skills.
- One of the courses from our dinner at ING, a deconstructed pepperoni pizza. Totally innovative food.
And Day 3:
- Arriving at the gorgeous Boarding House restaurant. There are thousands of wine glasses hanging from the ceiling!
- Bloggers and folks from Cracker Barrel sharing a wonderful brunch together on the first day of spring.
- Food stylist & photographer Laura Bednarski giving us a session on how to style cheese.
- Food bloggers invading the food prop table to style our own cheese plates.
- So many beautiful fruits available to pair the cheese with!
- Kraft Chef Mike Wisner explaining one of his cheese pairings to the bloggers.
- Chefs Stephanie and Mike explaining more cheese pairings.
- Chefs Stephanie and Mike inviting the bloggers to taste! This was my favorite…a beet chip with a peach, white cheddar, peach preserves, and a jalapeno.
I hope you enjoyed the highlights from my trip, and I hope you’re as excited as I am about cheddar cheese! I have 10 blocks of Cracker Barrel Cheese in my fridge right now, and I plan to make some really tasty things with them. Stay tuned for more very soon!
Note: All single photos in this post used with permission and credited to Todd Rosenberg/Cracker Barrel.
Collages made using mostly personal photos, but with one photo from the Day 1 collage and a few photos from the Day 3 collage credited to Todd Rosenberg/Cracker Barrel.