Summer in the ‘Burgh

Expert tips on how to sample 2,000 cheeses at the Festival of Cheese in Pittsburgh

It’s in town this weekend, and “you’re never going to see anything like it again.”

All. The. Cheese.

All. The. Cheese.

MISA ME Photography
Rossilynne Culgan

Nearly 2,000 cheeses — 1,954 to be exact — will on display and plated for snacking at the American Cheese Society’s Festival of Cheese on Saturday.

But just because you can eat unlimited pieces of cheese doesn’t mean you should.

“I don’t actually recommend trying every cheese. You can’t fit all of that in,” said American Cheese Society Executive Director Nora Weiser. “I’ve learned to pace myself.”

If you go to the Festival of Cheese, expect to see artisan, farmstead, and specialty cheeses of every imaginable style and flavor profile from the 2018 American Cheese Society judging and competition. Cheeses will be neatly displayed on tables and divided by category, with winner ribbons next to the champions.

“At one table, you’ll find hundreds upon hundreds of cheddars,” Weiser said. “They’re organized by category and scattered throughout the space. … They’re beautifully displayed on trays with fruit and flowers.”

Tablescapes made for Instagram.

Tablescapes made for Instagram.

MISA ME Photography

Cheesemakers and cheesemongers, many wearing their winning medals, will be on hand in the crowd to answer questions.

The cheese-tasting festival caps the weeklong American Cheese Society conference and competition dubbed “Forged in Cheese.” For the past 35 years, the conference has been held in different cities across the nation, and this year is its first visit to Pittsburgh.

“Pittsburgh was a very welcoming city,” Weiser said. “It has a great food scene. It worked for an organization of our size.”

In the week before the Festival of Cheese, cheesemakers and cheesemongers compete in cheese competitions, network, and attend educational sessions on everything from small-business tips to food safety. The American Cheese Society’s conference is known as the foremost educational gathering for the cheese industry in North America.

Cheese on cheese on cheese.

Cheese on cheese on cheese.

MISA ME Photography

The public-facing Festival of Cheese isn’t just a chance to gorge yourself on 2,000 cheeses from the U.S., Canada, and South and Central America. It’s also an opportunity to support local farmers.

If you really love cheese, you can further support cheesemakers by buying some cheese to take home, all on sale at deeply discounted prices. The cheese sale, by the way, is open to anybody, not just Festival of Cheese attendees.

“To see what they’re doing here — these cheesemakers in the United States — it’s amazing, and it’s a great way to support small-scale farming and local agriculture. The cheese is the end result of the hard work and passion,” Weiser said. “If people can make it to this, it’s really like you’re never going to see anything like it again. It’s just worth it if you love cheese to see this.”

Mouth. Watering.

Mouth. Watering.

MISA ME Photography

Here’s some advice from the expert on how to handle a room full of cheese:

  • “I always advise being adventurous but finding a few standbys that you love,” Weiser said.
  • Start with the basics, then try something else on that same table. If you like asiago, for example, start with asiago and then try something in a related Italian category. If you like brie, look for soft cheeses, then work your way up to something more pungent.
  • Try something that’s hard to find in Pennsylvania, like cheese made from sheep’s milk.
  • Look for cheese accompaniments like charcuterie, jams, crackers, bread, nuts and olives.
  • Cash bars will be available on site.

Eat all the cheese

At the Festival of Cheese, taste 2,000 cheeses, along with specialty accompaniments ranging from charcuterie to chocolate. Also taste samples of cider and craft beer. Then, purchase cheeses to take home.

Where: David L. Lawrence Convention Center — Hall D at 1000 Fort Duquesne Blvd. (Downtown)

When: July 28, 2018 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

How much: $65 (Incline readers get 10 percent off with the code Incline10.)