"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Great, Now I'm Terrified

On a total whim, I entered one of my cheeses (the seedy dill and caraway) into the national Good Food Awards contest (Good Food Awards). This is a "first annual" event - just like my swap meet, ha ha ha - meant to honor producers of local, artisanal food in several categories, which include cheese, beer, pickles, preserves, and charcuterie.

Obviously, most if not all of the entrants are businesses. I knew that - after all, the big prize is not money or an all-expenses-paid vacation but the "Good Food Seal of Approval" to slap on your product. I was totally honest in my application: I said I am NOT a business, NOT a licensed dairy, and NOT allowed to sell my product at all. I said I make something under 100 pounds of cheese a year for home consumption. I said that my cheese was made from raw goat's milk, aged considerably less than 60 days, and most likely I would be breaking several state laws just by mailing it in. I said they taste at their own (legal) risk.

Frankly, I was totally shocked and surprised to hear that I was chosen as one of 400 entrants to submit their product for a blind taste test. I am to mail my cheese to California, sufficiently wrapped and packaged, to arrive by October 7th at the latest. This is a very very big deal - the event has been written up in the New York Times, the Village Voice, the San Fransisco Chronicle, etc etc. Among the tasters are Alice Waters and Ruth Reichl (who just happens to be my food hero, being the person who brought a soul and a social conscience to Gourmet Magazine.).

Here's the problem - they want five pounds of cheese. Since I never expected to actually send in any cheese, we ate most of the seedy cheese (damn, it's really really good). There's barely any left. I am making more tonight, but it will be

1) extremely green, and

2) only about 2 pounds.

The fresh cheese is good - some people prefer it quite fresh, but it isn't really representative of the product, which I think is best at about two months old (well, ok, yes - that's as old as it's ever gotten, because we eat it that fast. So I guess in fact, my judgement is that it gets better and better as it ages.). Fresh, the cheese is slightly sour and has a bouncy, squeaky feeling between the teeth. It's good, but it's not what I decided to submit.

The other problem is more difficult. I can send in immature cheese but I can't send in five pounds of it if I only have two. I'm thinking that I am simply going to make up the difference in other cheeses (like Smokin' Goat Chilpotle Cheddar) and include a note explaining why.

Here's a first draft:


I am most incredibly flattered and excited to have been asked to send y'all some of my cheese. As you know, this is not a commercial product, but a sample of the cheese I make for myself and my family. That being the case, I regretfully inform you that I do not have a full five pounds of Seedy Cheese. Please accept this "Smokin' Goat Chilpotle" in lieu of half the Seedy Cheese. I hope you will enjoy it equally.

This year, I have only three does, and every bit of cheese I made (as well as yogurt and cajeta) is made from their milk. Iris, Django, and Flopsy together provide us with about 350 gallons of milk a year (while still feeding their own kids), from which I make somewhere between 50 and 100 pounds of cheese.

My goats browse freely on my five acres, eating whatever they like. They like blackberries, thistles, fruit trees, and dandelions! In the winter, they eat local hay. I take care of them entirely: I breed them, I deliver the kids, I trim their hooves and give them medicine when they are sick. I milk them myself, and I even trained my dog to help me herd them around the property. It has been my lifelong dream to have goats and learn to make cheese, and now it is the opportunity of a lifetime to offer some of it to you.

I offer you this not because I think it is the best cheese around - it isn't. My cheese is delicious, if I say so myself, but I have a lot to learn and a long way to go before I reach the level of the professional cheesemaker. I offer you this cheese because it is something lamentably rare, something that ought to be more common - a true farmstead product; the product of a single place, a single season, and a single person. This cheese is an example of what can be achieved by an ordinary city girl who has followed her dream for only a few years. This cheese is the product of one woman determined to feed her family on the best food she can produce. I am pretty damn proud of it, even though it will most likely fall short of the very high standard you have solicited. Please enjoy with my compliments, and I hope you like it as much as I do.


p.s. please please don't eat it if you are pregnant.


Leanne daharja said...

1. I think people need to stop being so terrified of food that is made at home. The reason you're afraid is because they are.


2. Good luck! I hope you WOW everyone who tries it, and encourage more people to try real home made food!


Let us know how you go!

Olive said...

Great news Aimee, Congratulations. I'm sure your cheeses will impress.

Grandpa said...

Wow! Great cheese! With that kind of letter the judges will have difficulty not to confer you an award, in my opinion

(I'm always amused that every dog, goat, and horse have names!)

The 4 Bushel Farmgal said...

Great news that you were picked as an entrant! That, alone, brings respectability to home-produced foods!

I'm sure your cheese selections will do well!

Anonymous said...

Sounds delicious and congrats on being chosen for the tasting. Great letter explaining the situation, yet still hopefully being able to have your cheese tasted and "rated." Of course what matters most is that you and your family enjoy it and from reading your blog it sounds as if you do! Someday I plan to try some cheesemaking too.. you inspire me with your blog to give it a try. :)

Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm said...

Congratulations! I am jealous of your fresh milk and cheese! I so want our own milk! Maybe next year...

Melinda C. said...

Congratulations! Love the letter, and I can't wait to hear how it turns out (much better to send less cheese than too young cheese, in my opinion).

dilli said...

Aimee, this reminds me of the little winery that entered some big competition and they thought they had gotten in over their head... they ended up winning the contest and then went on to win the world wide awards for best wine..(i think they turned it in to a movie after) do what you can and see where it goes and what happens.. you just never know!Best wishes to you and I think it is awesome!