PORTLAND, Ore.-A record number of North America's farmstead, artisan and specialty cheesemakers and enthusiasts came together for this year's American Cheese Society Conference.

PORTLAND, Ore.-A record number of North America's farmstead, artisan and specialty cheesemakers and enthusiasts came together for this year's American Cheese Society Conference.

Attendance at the 23rd annual conference, held in late July, was up more than 50% from the prior year's gathering in Louisville, Ky. Most educational program sessions were filled to capacity. The number of cheeses entered in competition also jumped significantly, from 749 to 941.

"This was the biggest conference in our history, and we had some challenges because of that," said Executive Dir. Marci Wilson. "We experienced some growing pains, but the content was very good, and we had great feedback from attendees. I think Portland was a big hit."

The conference sessions covered a variety of topics including effective packaging, specialty food pricing, and lessons to be learned from the craft beer industry. The conference also served as the launching point for a new Oregon Cheese Guild, which includes 11 Oregon cheese companies.

There were also profiles of cheesemaking companies including Cypress Grove Chevre, McKinleyville, Calif., and Tillamook Cheese of Tillamook, Ore., which wasDairy Foods' Processor of the Year in 2005.

Of the 941 cheeses entered in competition, 273 were awarded ribbons. Shortly after the winners were announced, various state and regional dairy associations, as well as individual cheese companies issued press releases about the results. Vermont, Wisconsin and California each boasted of numerous winners. Marin French Cheese Co., Petaluma Calif., and Carr Valley Cheese Co., Lavalle Wis., were among the companies that took home more than 10 ribbons each.

Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, a traditional, British-style Cheddar, took the Best of Show award. Cabot's cheese was chosen from more than two dozen category winners. The cheese is made in partnership with tiny Jasper Hill Farm in nearby Greensboro, Vt. Both cheese companies are members of ACS and members of the Vermont Cheese Council.

Next year's conference will be held in Vermont, Wilson said, which should lend itself to another large turnout and another dynamic event.

"Vermont has such a large cheesemaking industry, and it's close to Quebec, where we have a lot of members," she said. "We have not been on the east coast proper in some time. As we proceed beyond 2007, we are going to have to look for hotels that can accommodate larger numbers."

Not to mention, more cheese.

Below is an abbreviated list of first-place winners. For a complete list, and to find out more about the organization, visit www.cheesesociety.org.

Agropur,Delicreme Plain

Vermont Butter & Cheese Co.,Vermont Mascarpone

Cowgirl Creamery,Pierce Point

Marin French Cheese Co.,Triple Crème Brie

Marin French Cheese Co.,Rouge Et Noir Camembert

Blue Ledge Farm,Crottina

Klondike Cheese Co.,Brick

Carlisle Farmstead Cheese,Kay's Midnight Moonlight

Old Chatham Sheepherding Co.,Mutton Button

McCadam Cheese,McCadam Monterey Jack

Hendricks Farms & Dairy,Bavarian Swiss

Leelanau Cheese Co.,Raclette

Ballard Family Dairy & Cheese,Idaho Pepper Cheddar

Bleu Mont Dairy,Lil Wils Bandaged Cheddar

Mount Sterling Cheese,Raw Goat Milk Mild Cheddar

Fiscalini Cheese Co.,Bandage Wrap Cheddar Mature

Hook's Cheese Co.,10-year Sharp Cheddar

Pure Luck Grade A Goat Dairy,Hopelessly Bleu

Roth Kase USA,GranQueso

Fence Line, LLC at Burnett Dairy Cooperative,Fence Line Lightly Aged Provolone

Mozzarella Co.,Fresh Mozzarella

Klondike Cheese Co.,Feta

Fromagerie Tournevent,Deli-Chevre - Plain Low Fat

ARLA Foods,Smoke Peppercorn Gouda

Taylor Farm,Maple Smoked Gouda

Thistle Hill Farm,Tarentaise

Damafro, Inc.,Chevre des Alpes Nature

Estrella Family Creamery,Grisdale Goat

Mozzarella Fresca, Inc.,Dolce; Caramel Flavored mascarpone

Sidebar: Just Rewards for Three Veteran Artisans

In the world of American Artisan cheese, veteran status is a relative thing. Many award- winning cheesemakers have been at it for less than five years, so a company with ten years under its belt has some credentials.

But three pioneers, with a combined experience of more than 75 years, took home 17 awards at the 23rd Annual American Cheese Society Competition in July.

Mary Keehn of Cypress Grove Chevre, McKinleyville, Calif, Paula Lambert of Mozzarella Company in Dallas, Texas, and Allison Hooper of Vermont Butter and Cheese Co., Websterville, Vt., won seven, five and five awards respectively at the annual competition held this year in Portland, Ore.

"The market for our cheeses is booming while there is lots of competition in the artisan cheese market these days," said Lambert, a long-time spokesperson for the industry.

"We are thrilled to be able to grow our businesses profitably, work to improve the success of small family farms, and still be recognized as among the best American artisanal cheesemakers."

For all three, innovation also counts. Each has introduced new cheeses to the market this year.

"We all need to stay fresh and enjoy being creative. This is how we became successful in the first place," says Keehn. "We were the innovators when we began in the eighties. We want to maintain that reputation. The expectation from our customers is that we continue as innovators."

Keehn's company was one of three artisan cheesemakers featured in a MarchDairy Foodsarticle about the growth of companies in the specialty cheese segment.

To find out more about these companies and their products, visit their websites: