Affineur of the Year Finals, London, 27th April 2022

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A Tale of 10 Cheddars

On Wednesday 27th April 2022, 8 competitors, 10 cheeses, 6 judges, 2 hosts, 4 food & beverage providers and over 100 guests gathered at The China Exchange in the heart of London’s China town for the judging and awards ceremony of Affineur of the Year. This wasn’t, however, just another cheese competition. This was the first of its kind IN THE WORLD! And the buzz in the room certainly was a fair indication of the excitement this competition has drawn from across the UK and global cheese industry over the past 12 months.

“Cheese is created equal by cheesemakers. It is then passed to babysitters, Mary Poppins-type characters called Affineurs. They care for, ripen, nurture, wash and caress the cheese to bring it to a level of perfection…”

Keith Kendrick, BBC Good Food

Initial inspection of cheeses

To kick the awards off, the 10 competition truckles were inspected “fully clothed”, with their cloths still intact, by six expert judges.

Judge Matt Abé inspecting the clothed cheddars

Using the Judging criteria given, they scrutinised the rind and examined the structural integrity of the cheddars. Anyone observing will have seen bent-over white coats bobbing around as they sniffed and peered at the mottled truckles. Once this initial inspection was completed, the judges were whisked away, to be replaced by a frenzied swarm of activity as the competitors eagerly stripped the cloths and cut into the cheeses with nervous anticipation.

De-clothing the cheddars

Beads of sweat from the suspense could be spotted on some of the competitors, or perhaps it was just the physical act of cutting into the 27kg truckles that did it. Either way, intrigue was thick in the already savoury air. Like students opening the envelopes of those long-awaited exam results, the giant wheels were prised open. Joyous exclamations were abundant as the affineurs got at last to see the fruits of their art: the 11 months of brushing, turning, rubbing and adjusting really had paid off. Not one competitor was disappointed with their results; it really was a very jubilant fifteen minutes or so as they tentatively tasted and drank in the aromas of their newborn cheddars.

cheese affinage

Having skilfully cut their cheeses into ample-sized wedges for the judges, the competitors reluctantly retreated to their stalls; they could do no more.

Judging the Cheddars

Judging 10 cheddars, all made at the same time, from the same batch of milk, was never going to be an easy undertaking. Nuances were likely to be subtle and so working in pairs, our experts deliberated, cogitated and discussed to the nth degree flavour and aroma differentials of the cheeses. A copy of the Judging Form can be viewed here.

Judging is a serious business

Whilst the serious judging was going on at one end of the elegant hall, tastings of each competition cheddar were being generously proffered to the guests at the other. The great and the good of the Cheese industry were making their way around the room, marking their own score cards and forming their own conclusions.

Sampling gets underway with “The People’s Choice”

Want to taste like a Cheese Judge? See our Tasting Toolkit

Tasting Toolkit

Three useful tools from the Academy Of Cheese to help you taste cheese like a pro.

Cheese Judges’ Question Time

After a painstaking hour or so, the judges took to the stage, joining cheesemaker extraordinaire Mary Quicke and Academy Director Charlie Turnbull, to share their findings with the eagerly gathered audience. The shared observation amongst the six experts was their surprise at how 10 identical cheddars could turn out so diverse. Talk of the underlying brothy notes ever-present in a Quickes Cheddar turned into how the varying textures of fatty, grainy and toothsome can impact the finished flavour. The conclusion, reached by Charlie, of the judges’ reflections were how the impact of skill applied and care given during the affinage process was tantamount to the translation of overall flavour. You can hear the full on-the-day lowdown from all of the judges here:

The Judges give their thoughts
Cheese judge

“The differences were amazing. You could tell they were all Quickes cheeses but some were super brothy, others had more distinct roasted onion notes or grassy acidity. Textures took in everything from dry and waxy to moist and smooth. The same cheese but different!”

Patrick McGuigan, Judge

The Results of Affinage

And so came the time for the climax of this worthy experiment, one that will certainly go down in the British, potentially even International, Cheese Industry chronicles.

3rd place went to the Neal’s Yard Dairy Production team, behind their very own Retail team, who came in very respectively at 2nd place.

Affineur of the Year Runners Up Neal's Yard Dairy
Runners Up Neal’s Yard Dairy’s Retail & Production Teams

And to much applause, the title of Affineur of the Year, with its hand-carved truckle trophy, was handed to Rennet and Rind and their frontman, Perry James Wakeman. A deserved winner, Perry, who had lovingly cared for “Priscilla”, his cheddar from Devon, and recorded his tale of affinage via a detailed journal, also won the People’s Choice – a nice inclusion for the audience, who rarely get involved with such proceedings.

Perry Wakeman crowned Affineur of the Year

“There were no losers amongst this lot of exceptionally gifted affinage aficionados”

Keith Kendrick, BBC Good Food

What’s next for Affineur of the Year?

With the serious stuff out of the way, the results digested and celebratory back-slapping over, the mood of the room relaxed and guests were at ease to mingle and chat cheese for the remaining hour or so of the event. But the question on everyone’s lips was “will there be another event like this?”

The mastery of affinage has gained deserved recognition within the British cheese industry over the last few years, but there is still a way to go in understanding the full impact of maturing cheeses in the myriad of micro-climates and varying levels of humidity and temperature within a maturing room.

With this in mind, the Academy of Cheese and Quickes are currently looking at ways the competition can be developed to encompass different styles of cheese, with aims to run the competition annually.

You can hear what Rennet & Rind, Neal’s Yard Dairy and all the other competitors got up to with their competition cheddars and learn about their affinage techniques, in our series of Meet The Competitor webinars aired in the weeks leading up to the Finals event.

Are you beginner to Affinage and want to know more, read our Beginner’s Guide to Affinage here

Beginners guide to affinage

The Academy of Cheese has launched Affineur of the Year, but what does it mean to be an Affineur and why is it important?

Read our guide to affinage

beginners guide to affinage

Acknowledgements

With thanks to the judges and producers on the day for making this event run smoothly and so enjoyable:

Judges:

Noémie Richard, Head of Cheese Education, Savenia UK

Matt Abé, Chef-Patron Gordon Ramsey Restaurant

Ruth Raskin, Cheese Care & Quality Manager, The Fine Cheese Co.

Martha Collison, Food Writer, Recipe Developer and Show Chef

Jon Lilley, Group Development Chef, Lexy Catering

Patrick McGuigan, Food Journalist & Academy of Cheese Training Partner

Producers

Sharpham Wines

Southbourne Ales

Tempus Charcuterie

Find & Foster Fine Ciders


Rachel Holding Cheese Author
RACHEL HOLDING – ACADEMY OF CHEESE WRITER

Rachel loves a good cheese and wine session. Her love of all cheeses, artisanal or otherwise, has grown from her early years of working on the cheese counter at Fortnum & Mason.  She has a personal mission to taste as many cheeses as possible and to encourage this passion in others.

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