A wink and a nod to the affectionate nickname used by many to describe this weeklong coming together of friends industry-wide, mixed with a hefty dose of the nostalgia associated with that childhood escape to the woods in the summer, Cheese Camp 2015 made it official. A giddy, dizzying deep dive into the world of American cheese in all forms and fashions, this was a time focused onâ€”in fact, heralded in the tagline for the conference itselfâ€”our community.
Cheese people are funny. I don’t doubt that many industries have their own quirky qualities and cast of characters, but I truly believe that we represent the most colorful of them, all passionate and geeky and whip-smart and party animals. It never ceases to amaze me how multifaceted our crew is, able to shift, chameleon-like, from early morning sessions with the FDAâ€”the Goliath to our David of small artisans hell-bent on protecting their traditionsâ€”to a deep dive into the microbiological similarities of those happy, fuzzy molds that grow on the rinds of our beloved bloomy cheeses with mushroomsâ€”complete with a fungal tasting indeedâ€”to the pink-lit, swampy-hot karaoke rooms of a local, trendy hotelâ€”cheesemakers, importers, mongers, and skeptical onlookers alike belting out their favorite 80s power ballads. (Note to Northeastern readers: should you find yourself in Providence, get thee to the Boom Box at the Dean Hotel. Order a cat-shaped tiki drink. Sing. Repeat. You’ll thank me.)
As a co-chair of the conference this year, I spent Saturday night winding down with other coordinators and American Cheese Society staff. We agreed this year had been better than ever, undoubtedlyâ€”hopefully!â€”what we’ll say each year, but all muddling why this year felt so spot-on. For some, it was the educational seminars. For others, the number of new attendees adding new energy and drive to the industry, and shepherding in a new generation of future cheese rock stars.
For me, it was the insane energy of my week, packing each day with setting up our truly badass cheese truckâ€”perhaps the first pop up shop on wheelsâ€”educating our nearly 60 students from across the country, preparing to take the Certified Cheese Professional exam, speaking on a panel in a seminar on careers in this industry I hold so dear, and heading daily into the constant meet-and-greet of seeing 1200 of your favorite caseophiles. But for all, it was this celebration of community, woven together like a camp lanyard from the many people who gather and eat and learn and teach and discuss and argue and drink, all tied byâ€”quite frankly, we think the coolest thing to hold people togetherâ€” cheese.
As a child, I would spend my summers at camp among the pine trees and clear lakes of Maine. After several weeks of rec hall theatre, bug juice and arts and crafts, I would say goodbye to friends seen only once a year and promptly burst into exhausted tears for the long drive home. My mother would dutifully listen to story after story of the fun I had and gossip that meant nothing to her, patient and indulgent of my emotional response to leaving this magical place. Leaving Cheese Camp felt the same, and I found myself hugging colleagues and new friends tightly as I slipped away on Sunday morning, unwilling to shed a tear, but instead looking ahead to the next summer, and hoping Des Moines in 2016 can handle this bunch.