Nantwich: International Cheese Awards 2017

I LOVE living in Nantwich. I moved here in 2001 and am really beginning to feel part of the fabric of this great town where so much happens. Not quite a true “Dabber” but certainly an honorary one! Following on from my post last week about the Nantwich Show, I was involved once again this year in both the International Cheese Awards on Tuesday, as well as show day itself on Wednesday.

Cheese Stewarding

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The Stewards’ Briefing

It was an early start on Tuesday, arriving at Dorfold Park at 8am. It’s a great opportunity to catch up with local folk I don’t see very often, as so many people I know volunteer their services in the name of cheese!

After a chat with several people at the entrance, we checked in, took ownership of our stewarding packs and donned our white coats. Then it was off to the cafe for a cuppa prior to the stewards’ briefing.

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Seb avoiding having his photo taken with his mum!

This year, I roped in my 14 year old son, Seb, to help – his first year of stewarding.  As he was a late addition, he was given the role of supporting stewards and judges in the Retail Marquee. I think by the end of Show day, he’d practically eaten his bodyweight in cheese!

The Cheese Judges

International Cheese Awards 2017, Cheese Judges, John Axon
L to R: John Axon, Jan Deldycke & Marcel Klaver

I was allocated three judges: John Axon from The Cheese Hamlet – a fabulous delicatessen located in Didsbury; Jan Deldycke from D’s Deldycke Traiteurs – owner of another gorgeous looking deli, this time from Belgium; and Marcel Klaver who is a cheese producer in the Netherlands with his business Klaverkaas.

John was the Head Judge and it was Marcel’s first time judging. He had been put with seasoned judges John and Jan to get to know the ropes.

The Judging Process

Our first class was hard goat’s cheese. I’m always amazed at how many varieties of one particular type of cheese there are: there were only 8 cheeses in the class but they were all quite different.  The judges use a special tool called a “cheese iron” to burrow into the cheese without destroying it.

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Tools of the Trade: A Cheese Iron

It’s such an interesting process watching the judges take cheese samples, sniff them, slowly taste them and then “deliberate, cogitate and digest” as Loyd Grossman used to say!  I like to fully immerse myself in the process too: I think I have a reasonable palate and it’s fun assessing each cheese myself and then seeing if my comments concur with the judges’.

As a steward, my job was to note down the judges’ thoughts on each entry.  Jan and Marcel tended to speak Dutch to each other so it was tricky at times gleaning their thoughts. During the judging process, stewards have to supply kitchen roll for the wiping of cheese irons and knives, slice apples to cleanse palates, clear up the mess cutting cheeses leaves behind and seal up cheese iron holes or open packets with a (supplied) roll of sellotape. It’s all go, believe me!

After sampling each of the cheeses, there were two aged truckles that stood out above the others and after a second round of tasting, gold and silver were declared.

My job then was to take the winning entry to the “top table” where the “Best in Show” is judged, ensure all notes are written up, take the notes to the Show Office and take the judges to the next class.

Soft Cheese and Speciality Cheese Classes

Our next class was over in the Soft Cheese marquee. We tasted 17 cheeses in this class, including more goat’s cheese. There really were no “stand out” entries in this class and in the end, the judges awarded a Gold and a Bronze as they felt that the gap between the best and the second was too wide to justify the second being given Silver.

Belton Farm, Sage Derby, cheese, Nantwich, 2017, cheese, awards
Belton Farms Sage Derby Cheese

Our final class was back out in the main marquee and this time we were judging 13 speciality whole cheeses from UK and non UK creameries. There were some delicious entries in this class including a gorgeous Gouda, a Sage Derby Top Hat which I thought tasted amazing – a real zingy fresh herb taste – (but the European judges thought was “very English” and even John didn’t share my opinion!) and a Morbier.

Morbier, cheese, ash, Nantwich, cheese, awards, international, 2017
Morbier: cheese with ash running through it

My education in cheesemaking continued when John explained that what I thought was a blue vein running through the Morbier was, in fact, ash! French cheesemakers would put a layer of evening milk in a mould and spread ash over it to protect it overnight until more milk could be added the next day. Fascinating!

Disappointingly, 3 or 4 of the French cheeses were a “no show” leading John to speculate that one of the French producers had had problems getting their entries to the show. It was a shame as I am particularly partial to French cheese.

Finally, my part in the judging was over for another year. The judges and I shook hands, swapped business cards and took some photos. Then it was off to undertake other stewarding duties including finding “missing” cheeses off the top table, ensuring all the tables were clear, and patching up cheeses with sellotape and fastening open packets.

The Award Lunch

Soon it was lunchtime. It’s quite a sight to see 1450 people sitting down for lunch in a huge marquee. The timings were impeccable and the food fabulous. We were served delicious canapés and fizz as we entered and bumped into  yet more people we knew.

international, cheese, awards, trade day lunch, 2017, marquee, Harvey's catering, Sarah Faulkner, Kevin Murphy, Helen Gregory
Kevin had us all in giggles …

Seb and I chose a table and I was delighted to find my pal Sarah Faulkner from Sarah Faulkner Lettings was already sitting there with her lovely teenagers, Harriet and Dom.  We were soon joined by other Nantwich friends, Halina Dzisiewska who is a weeConsultant, Kevin Murphy from Employment Law Solutions and Aimee Standring who is doing work experience with us at RedShift at the moment. Kevin took great delight in making us all giggle with his innuendos and wit … and I think he thoroughly enjoyed getting me in trouble with the catering team for trying to break the rules!

international, cheese, awards, trade day lunch, 2017, marquee, Harvey's catering, Helen Gregory, Seb Gregory, Aimee Standring, Halina Dzisiewska
Aimee, Seb and Halina enjoying their lunch

After indulging in ham, beef, salmon, quiche, numerous salads and fresh rolls and butter, we spoilt ourselves with homemade desserts. There was trifle, chocolate roulade, pavlovas and mountains of strawberries. And of course, no cheese awards lunch would be complete without a whole host of cheeses to round off the meal!

cheese board, trade day lunch, international, cheese, awards, 2017, Nantwich, Cheshire
The well stocked cheese table

After the meal was the induction of new members into the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers (see my recent blog) followed by some speeches and then the all important awards to the cheesemakers and retailers: the outcome of all the judges’ and stewards’ hard morning’s work!

The Final Push

Eventually it was time to get back to work. The next couple of hours were spent replacing the “blind” packaged cheeses in the retail marquee with their branded counterparts.

It’s a huge job that entails offloading a pallet piled high with boxes of branded cheese, opening the boxes, finding the relevant cheese class on the tables, removing the unbranded cheeses and replacing them with branded ones.

It’s a shame that the cheese that has been sampled cannot be donated to the Foodbank or other charities but I guess because it’s been opened there would be a food safety issue. However, that certainly didn’t deter some of us who were quite happy to take home a few pieces to enjoy later!

Finally everything was done and it was time to go home and do a quick change before returning for the pre-show reception which RedShift were holding in association with South Cheshire Chamber of Commerce.

A Great Way to End the Day!

My lovely friend Teresa joined me for the evening reception back in the cheese marquee, along with over 200 other local business people. The whole place was buzzing as people enjoyed wine and cheese sponsored by one of my favourite local restaurants, Residence, run by the ever-affable Ben Rafferty.

Nantwich Show, reception, pre-show, RedShift, SCCCI

After a long and busy day, we headed home via Simply Thai to pick up a takeaway … enjoyed with a couple of glasses of red! Then early to bed, ready for another long but enjoyable day at Nantwich Show.


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