The Three C’s: Cheese, Cheesemaker, Consumer (American Cheese Month this October)

By Anna Wolfe
Retailers and marketers in the gourmet industry are rallying behind specialty cheeses, and planning in-store events and more to foster the connection between cheese, cheesemaker and consumer.


As retailers head into the key fourth-quarter buying season, they’re planning in-store events, dinners and other opportunities to promote artisan cheese.

The American Cheese Society (ACS), an association with more than 1,400 members that provides advocacy, education and networking opportunities for cheesemakers, retailers, marketers and others, is launching American Cheese Month this October.

The aim of the month-long grassroots effort is to educate consumers about the American specialty cheese industry.

Christine Hyatt, president of the volunteer-led organization, says, “ACS does a great job connecting industry and trade. The missing link is the connection to consumer.”

The ACS originally had the idea for American Cheese Week, but that concept evolved to span the entire month, giving larger retailers ample time “to participate in a major way,” Hyatt explains.

In addition to creating increased awareness and appreciation of American specialty cheeses, Hyatt hopes that the October promotion will translate into increased purchases of American specialty cheeses for Thanksgiving and beyond.

“Thanksgiving is the most American holiday,” she says. “If we get more American cheese on American tables, it will be good for everyone.”

At press time, the ACS was working on support materials such as a color logo, tasting guides and templates that will be downloadable from The association also will be posting updates on its Facebook page and including information in its upcoming member newsletters.

The goal, Hyatt says, is to get retail stores, restaurants and consumers to support American Cheese Month, however they want. Retailers can promote American specialty cheeses or local artisanal cheeses, while restaurants can feature American cheese plates on their menus. Consumers can get in the fun as well by hosting in-home tastings for family and friends. The ACS is encouraging participants to post pictures and thoughts on its Facebook page.

The American Cheese Month promotion officially kicks off at the Great American Brewers Festival (GABF), Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in Boulder, Colo. The ACS will have a booth that will be one of the core areas of the festival, in the Support Your Local Brewery Guild Pavilion, explains Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association, the organizers of the GABF.

The pairings of craft beers and specialty cheese is “a core topic that’s coming up again and again,” Herz says. About 20 states will be represented in the pavilion. In all, more than 2,000 beers will be sampled and more than 4,000 beers in 133 categories will be judged in the GABF competition. Details still were being finalized at press time; one possible match-up includes organizing craft beers and American cheese by state.

“Today’s beer lovers are foodies,” Herz says, adding that “they care about what the purchase, how it is made and who is making it. They support local producers.”

The GABF, which is celebrating its 30th year, sold the festival’s 49,000 tickets in less than a week, a record. Last year’s event also sold out.

“That’s crazy to us,” Herz says. “The interest and demand for craft beer is at an all-time high.”

31 Days, 31 Cheesemakers
“October is the perfect time to focus on American cheeses,” O’ Neill says. “It’s harvest time, and there’s not a lot of other noise.” Plus, it’s a key buying period, he adds.

Every day in October, Pastoral will be highlighting a different cheesemaker in its three stores as well as on its blog.

“The idea is to tell their story, what they make and what makes them special,” O’Neill explains.

The cheese cases will be merchandised to promote the producers, and the stores will be selling ACS merchandise and handing out trail maps to nearby cheesemakers. In addition, participating customers who are members of Pastoral’s loyalty program will receive extra points.

Photo courtesy of Pastoral Cheese, Bread and Wine
Greg O’Neill, left, and Ken Miller are planning “a fairly aggressive” American Cheese Month promotion at their three Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread and Wine stores in Chicago.

Also in the works is a special lunch, open to chefs, consumers and press, where cheesemakers would discuss American cheese, how the industry has evolved and where it is going. Details were being worked out at press time, but the plan is to organize the lunch discussion after a Greencity Market, the Chicago farmer’s market that is held on Wednesdays and Saturdays until 1 p.m.

Pastoral, in conjunction with the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, is planning Wisconsin Cheese Week, Oct. 10-17. The entire week will be dedicated to Wisconsin cheesemakers and cheeses. To kick off Wisconsin Cheese Week, all 50 Pastoral employees will go on a road trip to the Badger State to visit some nearby cheesemakers.

“They’ll get the chance to see what all the squawk is about,” O’Neill says of the day-long tour, which is “designed to get the staff worked up, in a good way.” The behind-the-scenes look will give the staff “a personal perspective” that they can then take back to the store and share with the customers, he notes.

Sometime during the month, Pastoral, which regularly offers beer, cheese and wine tasting classes, plans to highlight some cocktail and cheese pairings created by Death’s Door Spirits, a sustainable distiller in Madison, Wis., that sources organic wheat from Washington Island.

In addition to the in-store promotions, which will include book signings and in-store appearances by area cheesemakers, Pastoral is working with its 50 restaurant customers to promote an American cheese plate during October.

O’Neill, who is a member of the ACS board of directors, also is helping to rally other Chicago retailers, “as many as I can get,” around the month-long promotion, he says.

Some of the proceeds from the Pastoral event will benefit the ACS Foundation, the nonprofit’s charitable arm, which funds cheese education and cheesemaker scholarships.

Complementary Flavors
“a basic flavor-range of cheeses.” For her classes, she likes to pair beers and cheeses with complementary flavors.

Some of Johnson’s favorite pairings include Redwood Hill Smoked Goat Cheddar with a heavy stout such as Double Arrogant Bastard or Old Rasputin, Dunbarton Blue “with anything super-hoppy” such as a Dogfish 90-Minute IPA, and Marin French Cheeese’s Rouge Noir Camembert, “which has a nice buttery, mellow flavor,” with Scrimshaw Pils.

Photos courtesy of The Bloomy Rind

Kathleen Cotter, owner of The Bloomy Rind, is planning a cheese festival showcasing Southern cheeses, including those from Sequatchie Cove Farm, pictured below.

Taylor’s Market, which also operates Taylor’s Kitchen, a sit-down restaurant, will feature an American cheese plate, as well.

“We carry a lot of American cheeses, in general,” Johnson says of the 49-year-old neighborhood store. Most of Taylor’s cheeses are from California and the Northwest, with cheeses from Old Chatham Sheepherding, Beehive Cheese Co. and Vermont Butter & Cheese rounding out its domestic selections. As part of the American Cheese Month promotion, all American artisan cheeses will be discounted 10 percent, Johnson says.

Photo courtesy of Taylor’s Market
In honor of American Cheese Month, Felicia Johnson, the cheesemonger at Taylor’s Market in Sacramento, Calif., will teach an American cheese and craft beer pairing class.

Southern Style
“baby stepping to a small retail shop,” Cotter focuses her selections on handcrafted American cheeses.

“I felt like it there was a space for it here,” she says. In addition to her two stands, Cotter also works with area restaurants, doing cheesemongering and wholesale ordering for them.

Most of Cotter’s cheeses are from Tennessee and the Southeast, but when it comes to cheese, she doesn’t discriminate.

“I don’t want to miss out on fabulous cheeses from other places,” she says.

To celebrate the region’s increasing number of cheesemakers, Cotter is organizing the Southern Artisan Cheese Festival on Oct. 1.

“I’m working, wrangling, hoping to have 20 cheesemakers,” she says about the festival, which will feature cheesemakers sampling and selling their cheeses from small tabletop displays. To kick off the festival on Sept. 30, Cotter is arranging some “meet the cheesemaker” dinners. Plans still were shaping up at press time; other possible activities include a pimento cheese (a Southern favorite) recipe contest, a beer and cheese night at a local brewery, and a cross-promotion with the Nashville Beer Festival, which also runs Sept. 30-Oct. 1.





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