In its fifth year, the Utah Cheese Awards is both widening its scope and bringing something more local to Cache Valley.
On Monday, a group of judges quietly gathered in the first floor of USU’s Blue Square apartments, independently sampling cheeses, sauces and honeys from producers all around the West.
Judge Julie Young of River Heights said she’s glad she found out about the judging in Logan. In previous years, the competition involved only one judging, in Salt Lake City.
“I really like good cheese,” Young said. “I wouldn’t consider myself a foodie, necessarily, but I do value good food and eating healthy. Cheese is a really nice treat.”
Steve Jerman, the award’s founder, started his own cheese journey while living in Cache Valley.
“After a couple of years living in North Logan, I saw an opportunity to be an apprentice at Rockhill Creamery in Richmond,” Jerman said. “So I moved out of that apartment and moved onto their farm there and worked there for about four months and just kind of saw how the whole artisan cheese world worked.”
While talking with the cheesemaker at Rockhill during the apprenticeship, the topic of awards came up. After Jerman moved back to Salt Lake City, he decided starting his own cheese award was a way he could get involved in the industry with the time and resources he had available.
“The first one was put together in about three or four months, and I was just really surprised with the outlook,” Jerman said. “And we’ve just been going ever since.”
Another benefit of adding the Logan judging was access to local resources. Butcher’s Bunches on Blue Square’s first floor hosted the judging, and Aggie Creamery Manager Dave Irish helped judge entries — excluding cheese, of course, since Aggie Creamery enters and frequently wins in those categories.
While it took some doing to convince people of the award’s merit in the first few years, Jerman said it’s taken root and cheesemakers are seeing the benefit.
“It’s an incredible marketing thing, because it doesn’t cost them for what they could even do with a tiny ad somewhere,” Jerman said. “Pabst Blue Ribbon beer won their blue ribbon in 1876.”
While it’s still the Utah Cheese Awards, this year Jerman opened the contest up to entries from all states that touch Utah, plus Montana.
Nadra Haffar, a judge from Cache County, said it’s good to see efforts like this help artisan businesses.
“I’ve also participated in partnerships that Rooster’s (Brewing Company in Ogden) has done, pairing beers and different cheeses, and I just think it’s really exciting that as all of these small artisan businesses really start taking off, they can find their place in markets, whether they’re smaller or bigger,” Haffar said. “So I think it’s exciting that it’s opened up.”
While the prize’s judging wrapped up Monday, Jerman said it should take a couple of months before winners are announced. While the details aren’t all worked out for this year and last year’s awards event was cancelled due to COVID-19, Jerman is optimistic he can pull something together.