Crowns and cheese

What dairy product would you find the most challenging to promote?

That question was posed to the three candidates vying for the South Dakota Dairy Princess crown Wednesday, during the Central Plains Dairy Expo in Sioux Falls, S.D.

I was one of three judges asked to help select the next spokesperson for South Dakota’s dairy industry during a day-long event that included personal interviews, a mock radio interview and a speech by each of the three teens.

Responses regarding the most challenging dairy product to promote were very different among the princess candidates. Fellow judge DiDi Christopherson, also of Worthington, said before the interviews that the answer had to be cottage cheese.

Now, I happen to like cottage cheese … and I think she does too … but, I could understand her point. While it tastes good, I suppose some people might have a problem with the texture or appearance.

Only one of the girls responded with cottage cheese. Another said sour cream, which I also happen to like on my homemade fajitas and tacos; and the third girl said yogurt. Hmm, I like yogurt too … especially those low-fat, thick and creamy varieties that taste just as good as key lime pie and orange cream. Also, they have the cool Go-Gurts these days that are quite portable – I should really give them a try.

The judging process was educational for me – not conducting an interview, but rather all of the great and wonderful information I learned about the dairy industry – especially the nutritional aspect of dairy products.

All three of the contestants spoke highly of the recently-launched Fuel Up to Play 60 program, which promotes consumption of dairy products and getting 60 minutes of exercise daily. Most consumers, they said, usually only get two of their recommended three servings of dairy on a daily basis.

I also learned that chocolate milk is good for you. Aha … so my Mom was wrong all those years ago when we were growing up and she’d never buy us the flavored milk! (I stopped at the grocery store tonight and picked up a half-gallon … it was on sale, and I discovered they make a low-fat version of chocolate milk, sweetened with Splenda – even better!) I probably won’t pour it on my Wheaties and sliced banana cereal combination in the morning, but it will disappear soon enough.

Judging the princess contest was a great experience, but it wasn’t the only first for me on this trip to Sioux Falls. I also attended the Central Plains Dairy Expo trade show (I now am the proud owner of a stress cow … to accompany my stress pig and my stress chicken at the office); and I took part in the cheese judging contest hosted by a long-time professor at my alma mater, South Dakota State University.

The contest included samples of eight different cheddar cheeses, and we were supposed to give them a ranking between 3 and 8 – three being not so good and eight being a pretty good cheese.

Now, I should explain that we were all told we shouldn’t swallow the cheese, but rather taste it and spit it out in a pair of lined garbage cans. After sampling the first few cheeses, I’d overcome my embarrassment at spitting cheese in a garbage can – mostly because everyone else was doing it too.

The first few cheeses tasted pretty good, and I was beginning to wonder why I had to spit each sample into the trash.

And then, it happened.

In hindsight, I probably should have smelled the sample before I put it in my mouth.

Oh, it was bad … real bad.

To make matters worse, people were blocking the spit containers. I couldn’t hold it in. Let me through, I thought, as I tried not to swallow anything. Miraculously, a path suddenly cleared and I reached the bucket just in time … a few seconds longer and my lunch might have joined the cheese in the bucket!

I’m so glad I never competed in the dairy foods judging contest in FFA … a sample like that and I would have been done for!

Minutes after I finished my scoring, the SDSU professor went through our judging sheets and provided his ranking. As if it wasn’t already clear that I was not so good at judging cheeses, he made it perfectly obvious. A perfect score was 0, and I scored a 12.

Those two cheeses that I ranked as the absolute worst … well, he flavored both of them with sulfide. Take it from me … that’s nasty stuff! Other cheeses, he told us, ranged from bitter to high acid and unclean.

And the cheese I thought tasted the best … tasted just like the cheese curds I always have to buy when I go through Wisconsin … was deemed to be high acid and unclean. Boy, he sure fooled me!

The whole experience won’t make me shy away from cheese … but I will think twice before entering another cheese judging contest.

All this talk about cheese has made me hungry for cheese curds … nothing beats the fresh curds that squeak when you chew them. Unfortunately, none of the dairy princess candidates talked about the nutritional qualities of cheese curds in their presentations.

Maybe I’ll just stick to my chocolate milk, cottage cheese and yogurt for a while.

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