CRESCENT CITY, Calif. andndash;andensp;Rumiano Cheese Company took top honors at the Annual American Cheese Society Competition last month.
The Crescent City cheese-maker won first place awards for its
Monterey Jack, Dry Monterey Jack and Sicilian Jack cheeses. A third
place award was given for its Dry Monterey Jack with whole peppercorns.
Joby Rumiano, one of the owners, said he was pleasantly surprised by the multiple medals.
"Our hard cheese like our hard Monterey Jack is our staple," Rumiano said. "It's really cool that one actually took a gold medal."
The American Cheese Society had a record-breaking number of entrants for this year's 26th annual competition, held in Seattle.
More than 1,400 cheeses and cultured dairy products were entered for judging in various categories. A total of 225 producers came from all over the U.S. and even as far as Canada and Mexico to be part of the competition.
Winning an award is no easy task as entries must not only taste good, but look good. Rumiano said judges consider packaging and ingredient consistency when making decisions.
"If the peppercorns are not evenly distributed, they mark you down," he said of specialty cheese judging.
According to Rumiano, awards sometimes depend on a judge's personal preferences and likings.
"It's a lot with the judges' tastes I think," Rumiano said. "If you enter a garlicky cheese or something, they may think it overpowers the cheese."
Last month's awards were not the first Rumiano Cheese Company has received this year. It was awarded two gold medals and two silver medals in the Los Angeles International Dairy Competition.
Rumiano's Dry Monterey Jack with whole peppercorns and Sicilian Jack cheeses won first place awards. Its Monterey Jack and Dry Jack took second place.
The California State Fair was also a site of gold and silver medals for Rumiano. Its Dry Monterey Jack with whole peppercorns and Dry Jack cheeses took first place. Its Lavender Jack and Monterey Jack took second place.
Rumiano attributes the awards to traditional methods of cheesemaking. The company started doing classic jack cheeses over the last year.
"We've gone back to a more traditional hands-on approach," Rumiano said. "They are hand-rolled wheels pressed in presses."
Rumiano said Dry Monterey Jack first became popular when the United States placed an embargo on Italy during World War II, which meant people here couldn't get Italian cheese. When residents discovered Monterey Jack, it became "the poor man's parmesan."
Currently, Rumiano produces more than 60 varieties of cheese that are shipped all over the world. It even produces organic and kosher cheeses.
Rumiano said it primarily ships to the five westernmost states and Hawaii. He said the company plans to focus more on its distribution in Washington and Oregon in the near future.
"We're in the Medford area, but we taper off the farther north you go," Rumiano said.
In addition, the company is working on becoming a certified non-GMO facility. GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are created through genetic engineering. Rumiano said the company is close to having all of its certifications.
"We're going to be the first cheese company out there to be certified non-GMO," Rumiano said.