How to Host an Amateur Cheesemaking Contest

and maybe sell some of your surplus milk and goats!

How to Host an Amateur Cheesemaking Contest

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Want to find a way to sell more of your surplus milk to local customers? Trying to find more homes for those spring kids each year? Here’s an idea:  Teach a few of your friends and neighbors how to make some simple goat cheeses and then host a local amateur cheesemaking contest! You don’t have to go all out to have a fun and successful event, and it’s a great way to encourage people to appreciate (and hopefully purchase) your delicious farm-fresh goat milk. You might even sell a few goats along the way.

So, where to begin? Start by offering a simple short cheesemaking class in your own home kitchen. I can easily fit six to eight people in my kitchen so this is the number I stick with. Two of the very easiest cheeses to make (and teach) are homemade ricotta and the classic soft goat cheese, chèvre.  You can invite a few folks over for a nominal fee (or don’t charge them at all) and let them see how easy it is to make these cheeses and how delicious they taste.  You can give them a tour of your farm while they’re there so they can meet the wonderful girls that provided the milk for the class!

Cheese judging.

You can then put out a challenge to everyone in the class. Offer to host a casual second get-together in the form of a simple cheesemaking contest. Everyone can go back home and try their hand at making the recipes you taught them and then come back with an entry or two on the day of the contest. You can offer to provide the milk for the contest to get them used to working with your delicious farm-fresh milk. People can make different varieties of the recipes you taught them by adding different flavors and presenting it in different forms (for instance a rolled log of chèvre in herbs or a round disk of chèvre topped with sundried tomatoes and pesto). Recruit an unbiased third party to be your “judge” and give them a simple judging sheet to write their comments on. Here’s a sample of one we’ve used for our amateur cheesemaking contests:

Entry #: _________         Style/Type: __________________________

Flavor:            1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10

Texture:         1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10

Appearance:              1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10

Total Score:   __________

Comments: ______________________________________________________________________________

At the end of the contest, announce the winners, give out a homemade ribbon or certificate, and, if desired, award a few prizes. You could provide a gallon of free milk, or a pretty cheese plate, or an invitation to come back to another class to learn more!

If you want to get fancier and offer more cheese categories, you can open it up to any and all cheeses. Here are some of the categories we’ve used for our contests:

  Category Name Description/Example Cheeses
1. Soft Unripened Cheese Cheese curds, cottage cheese, cream cheese, fromage blanc, mascarpone, quark, ricotta, chèvre (flavored or not)
2. Mozzarella & Burrata Fresh, acid-assisted cheeses
3. Bloomy-rind Cheeses Camembert and all cheeses ripened with Penicillium candidum, Geotrtichum candidum
4. All Cheddars (flavored or not)
5. Blues All cheeses ripened with Penicillium roqueforti
6. Washed-curd Colby, Havarti, Gouda (flavored or not)
7. Washed-rind Trappist, Taleggio, etc.
8. Young Pressed All other pressed cheeses aged less than one month — feta, queso fresco, Guidos, Manchego (flavored or not)
9. Aged Pressed All other pressed cheeses aged more than one month — Guido, Manchego, Alpines (flavored or not)
10. Marinated or Smoked Any marinated or smoked cheeses

If you like the idea of organizing these amateur cheesemaking contests, you might even consider contacting your local extension office or country fair coordinator to encourage them to hold an amateur cheesemaking contest as part of the festivities. People have been entering homemade pies and jams at county fairs all around the country for years, but cheesemaking contests are few and far between. Our own county fair offers such a contest and on the day the entries are due, I give contestants an opportunity to enter their delicious fromages in a second contest on the same day, hosted at my farm. They just drop off one set of entries at the fairgrounds and then bring a second set to our cheesemaking classroom. Last summer we had over 25 different entries, with everything from simple soft cheeses all the way through some pretty complex (and delicious) hard, aged cheeses. It was really a rewarding process and gave a big boost to our local milk and class sales. And last year every one of the goats I sold at the end of the summer went to budding local home cheesemakers!

Originally published in the March/April 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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