Sara Hill is one of the three co-chairs for the American Cheese Society Conference and Competition, which began yesterday at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. Tasked with welcoming cheesemakers and industry professionals from around the country, Sara has been anticipating the conference and competition, described as the Oscars of the cheese world, for many months. We had the opportunity to interview her to hear some of her exclusive insights leading up to opening night.
What makes this American Cheese Society Conference and Competition unique compared with previous ones?
This is our 30th anniversary, and we have a record number of cheeses entered at 1,794! It is especially great to have the conference location be in the state that wins more awards than any other. Also, the addition of the cheese curd category into the contest is pretty cool.
You will be a panelist for the session titled “Wisconsin Beer & Cheese: Made for Each Other!” – can you tell us a little more about what you will be highlighting?
I realized soon after getting my job as the Manager of Cheese Education for Wisconsin Cheese that craft beer is an overall better partner with specialty and artisan cheese than wine. I love wine, but our cheese flavors are becoming so complex that they overwhelm most wines; the roasted notes of a toasted barley beer complement the savory notes of cheese, and the carbonation lifts the butterfat off your palate for a wonderful finish. We will be exploring all of this in this seminar with two beer experts, Lucy Saunders and Randy Mosher.
On the topic of cheese and beer – what are the pairings that you are craving this summer season?
Summer and hot weather usually mean I crave more of the lighter beer pairings, such as:
- Wheat beers with traditional Wisconsin Baby Swiss
- Amber lagers with savory cheeses like Sartori Bellavitano
- Stouts or sweet porters with Hook’s Blue Paradise
In the coming years, what changes do you see beginning to happen in the cheese industry?
I really don’t see this wave of cheese growth breaking soon – there are new start-up cheese plants all over the country, and folks are searching for real, pure handmade food. It also helps that the trends of other artisan products, like salami, pair so well with cheese.
As a cheese educator, what’s the best piece of advice you can give to someone who is just beginning to explore all of the varieties available here in Wisconsin?
When I started in the cheese business 30 years ago, there was only one book and no internet. Today, there are over 40 great books on all aspects of cheese, and the internet has become an amazing resource, as exemplified by our website EatWisconsinCheese,com. But the most enriching way to explore cheese is to find a cheesemonger whom you can visit regularly, and who will let you try cheese and tell you the romance behind what makes that cheese so special.