The inaugural Cheese Challenge took place last Tuesday, Oct. 28 in the Multipurpose Room at South City Campus.
The brain-child of Lisa Cohne, manager of the Utah Education Network (UEN), the Cheese Challenge featured cheese artisans from three local institutions: The Art Institute, Davis Applied Technical School, and Salt Lake Community College. Cohne was shocked by the large and unique turnout.
“[It’s the] best I’ve ever had,” says Cohne. “A couple came all the way from Tooele for date night.”
After a fierce round of judging, the team of Stephanie Shaw and Justin Gerdes took home top honors with their Herbes de Provence goat cheese.
Culinary students Donna Mills and Penny Lover represented the home team well. The duo conjured a lemon goat cheese dusted in homegrown purple sage picked from the college garden at the Miller Campus. To complement the cheese was a cinnamon honey spread and fresh pear rounds.
As the manager of UEN, Cohne shows monthly films at schools throughout the valley dedicated to arts and media. With October being American Artisan Cheese Month, Cohne had no better opportunity to launch the Cheese Challenge. Teaming up with Culinary Arts director Bob Burdette was the home run Cohne was looking for.
Mirroring the Cheese Challenge’s upward outlook is Burdette’s own domain in the SLCC culinary arts program.
In the fall of 2015, SLCC is launching a new modernized curriculum allowing students the opportunity to achieve an Associates of Science in Culinary Arts at the Miller Campus. In addition, the campus is erecting its own greenhouse to elevate the level of education.
“Students will literally be taking class in the greenhouse,” says Chief Instructor Franco Aloia.
In addition, the SLCC School of Applied Technology is launching a similar program in January, providing prospective students the option between a six and 12 month certification program.
Burdette is modest about the progress made in 10 months, the highlight being a three day world culinary conference featuring numerous culinary schools from around the U.S. and world.
“We are teaching people to become chefs as opposed to cooks,” says Burdette. Previous to his current position, Burdette spent 14 years as an accounting instructor at SLCC. Both Burdette and Cohne expect more cheese challenges in the future, building off the great reception of Tuesday’s event.
Artisan cheese could be the next fine arts power to emerge in Utah in a similar fashion to craft brewing.
Brian Brinkerhoff, a local cheese connoisseur, had a hard time settling for a favorite at the competition.
“It’s hard to pick good from bad when it comes to fresh cheese,” says Brinkerhoff. “I think the artisan cheese community in Utah is ready to explode.”
Highlighting the judge’s panel was Shauna Durant, a certified cheese professional. Shauna is one of only eight people in Utah to hold such a title from the American Cheese Society. Along with Shauna was Pat Ford, the owner of Beehive Cheese, a local hand made cheese company located just north of Salt Lake in Uintah, Utah. Rounding out the judges table was the former VP of the Utah Dairy Commission, Becky Low.
Curds and whey may not be the first thought, or even the after thought when thinking of Utah arts and craftsmanship. However, this competition was a step in the right direction for the artisan cheese community.