Four thousand cheeses for tasting - surely this is what heaven looks like for cheese lovers?! 88 tables laden with cheeses from 45 countries across the globe, this was the sight waiting for Clare when she arrived at the World Cheese Awards 2021 in Oviedo this week. Clare was thrilled to be part of the team judging these entries to find the world's best cheese!
The World Cheese Awards, run by the Guild of Fine Food, are in their 33rd year. These awards were established over three decades ago to bring the delicious work of artisan cheese makers to a wider audience. After the disruption of Covid, this year's awards held special significance as the international cheese community reunited outside the Zoom screen!
In teams of two or three, judges taste a table of around forty cheeses. Alongside judges from Ireland and Spain, Clare worked her way through cheeses of various different styles and milks, scoring them for appearance, texture, aroma and flavour. Based on these results, they nominated cheeses to receive bronze, silver and a few prestigious gold awards. There's no limit on how many awards can be given per table but all decisions must be unanimous so there's always lots of discussion about the characteristics of each cheese, guided by industry expertise, cultural preferences and of course personal taste.
Having tasted all the cheese on the table, Clare and her fellow judges selected one exceptional cheese as their 'Super Gold' to go forward to the next round of the competition. They selected an aged ewe's milk cheese with a dark natural rind and complex nutty flavour to sit amongst the 88 top cheeses in the world. These were then judged for a second time by the Super Jury of internationally recognised experts who each championed a cheese in the final round of judging to find the 'Supreme Champion'.
This year's top 16 cheeses included a Parmigiano-Reggiano, a Gorgonzola Dolce, an Époisses and two British cheeses: a Cheddar and a Caerphilly. Until the final moment, the Époisses held a strong lead. Then the last cheese to be judged, a soft goat's cheese with a beautiful horizontal layer of olive stone ash running through it, received an astonishing score of 103 out of a possible 112 making it the overall winner! The judging hall erupted as this cheese was revealed as a Spanish cheese, Olavidia. The home crowd were delighted by this accolade and the cheese makers, Quesos Y Besos, were present to receive their trophy and celebrate being crowned the 'World's Best Cheese 2021'!