“I don’t think there’s a cheese out there that at least somebody doesn’t like.”
 –Marcel Gravel, Cabot Creamery

That was the plant manager from Vermont’s largest cheese maker on Friday during a panel discussion on the economics of affinage at the American Cheese Society conference. I knew there had to be some explanation for the existence of inconceivable crimes against nature such as smoked salmon cheddar and strawberry-chardonnay cheddar, both ribbon winners in their respective categories in ACS’s annual cheese competition.

At Saturday’s Festival of Cheese those and over a thousand other competition entries from cheese makers all over the U.S. and Canada were cut and laid out in the Chicago Hilton’s grand ballroom. Fish cheese aside, an impossible number of these were very fine indeed, including two second-place red ribbon winners from our old pal Willi Lehner. It was a challenge to sample thoughtfully among all this cheesy splendor–about the only spot in the room that wasn’t mobbed with turophiles was the deserted low-fat, low-salt cheese table.

Some of my favorites: Vermont Butter & Cheese Company’s cultured butter with sea salt, Utah’s Beehive Cheese Company’s espresso-lavender-rubbed cheddar, and Virginia’s Meadow Creek Dairy farmstead Grayson, which I had the great good fortune to try earlier in the week melted on a pizza created by the talented Mark Bello

The big local angle here is that Wisconsin cheese makers took away a whopping 91 ribbons in the competition, a third of all the prizes. Sid Cook of Carr Valley Cheese Company won 18 of them, including Best in Show for his Snow White Goat Cheddar, and third runner-up for Cave Aged Marisa. Other local winners: downstate Prairie Fruits Farm took third in soft ripened goat’s milk cheeses for their Little Bloom on the Prairie, and Indiana’s Capriole took first in flavored goat cheeses for perennial favorite O’Banon. Both are available at the Green City Market.

Many winning cheeses were absent from Sunday’s clearance sale at Kendall College, but if you were quick and ruthless you could get some fantastic deals. I scored a four-pound chunk of Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar for ten bucks. I shudder to think of what this red-ribbon-winning hunk of raw milk wonder would have cost at retail.

I want nothing more today than a bucketful of raw cabbage.