As Good as Gold
Oregon impresses at 2016 Good Food Awards
On a crisp, sunny Sunday in September, 215 category experts and a plethora of volunteers and food activists gathered at the Impact Hub in San Francisco for the sixth annual Good Food Awards blind tasting. The goal: to evaluate the record-breaking 1,937 entries — a third more than in previous years — spanning 13 categories, from charcuterie to confections, to pickles and preserves.
As the craft food movement matures, many consumers seek products that not only taste great, but also reflect solid social and ethical production practices. The Good Food Awards shines a spotlight on those that excel at both.
This year, I was honored to be among the judges in the cheese category. Producers from around the country submitted their finest. In the preliminary round, small teams of judges evaluated every entry as a cheerful collection of Bay Area cheese champions served round after round.
Our team tasted the gamut, from kefir and yogurt, to impressively stinky washed rind selections to extra-aged flavor bombs. It was marvelous fun to sample the craft and creativity of today’s cheesemaking talent.
Volunteers worked through lunch to tabulate top contenders, which were presented for a second round of judging in the afternoon. It was quite the undertaking, but convivial and full of cheeses with incredible complexity.
One clear trend is that of American versions of Morbier, the well-known semisoft cheese originating in France. You can spot it easily across the room, with its distinctive layer of vegetable ash separating two layers of paste; I counted three entries of this enterprising style representative during the afternoon session.
Once the impressive slate was whittled down, top-scoring entries were vetted to ensure they met industry-specific environmental and social criteria. These standards include environmentally sound agriculture practices, good animal husbandry, transparency and responsible relationships throughout the supply chain.
Fast-forward to November, and 263 finalists were announced. As a well-known green-minded state, it’s no surprise Oregon had its fair share on the list. (See sidebar).
“There is a lot of wonderful work going on in Oregon, and it’s an honor for us to throw a spotlight on the food crafters who are doing such extraordinary work,” said Christina Schantz, managing director of programs and community for Good Food Awards.
Carine Goldin, of Goldin Artisan Goat Cheese in Molalla, made the finalist list yet again this year for two cheeses: Chaumine and Tomme de Vignes.
“Good Food Awards has been a good conduit for me,” she says. “As far as I understand it, the GFA judges uniquely on taste, which I think it is the most indicative attribute of a good cheese.”
Winners will receive their medals at an awards ceremony Jan. 15, 2016, in San Francisco. Food activist Alice Waters and Slow Food Founder Carlo Petrini will be presenters as the food world gathers to celebrate the diversity and appeal of American craft food.
Following the awards, the public is invited to the Good Food Awards Marketplace at the Fort Mason Farmers Market in San Francisco on Jan. 17. Winners will be present with products available to taste and buy.
As we inch closer to the holiday season when giving is the order of the day, perhaps a tasty gift might be in order? Supporting businesses that work hard and, at greater expense, adopt ethical and sustainable production practices is a great way to give good taste and feel great doing it.
Cheers to a happy, healthy and tasty holiday season and 2016!