I come from a family of cheesemakers in Mexico, so for me, it's a family thing, and an honor for the farm where I work. —Fernando Chavez
Gold Creek Farms in Woodland, Summit County, is proof that sometimes bigger isn't always better. The small farmstead cheese-making operation won Best of Class honors in the 2012 World Championship Cheese Contest, held this year in Madison, Wis.
Gold Creek's cherry wood-smoked cheddar won Best of Class in the Smoked Hard Cheeses category, and second place in the same category for its cherry wood-smoked parmesan.
Other competitors in the same category were from Wisconsin, Idaho, the United Kingdom, Australia, Vermont and Iowa.
It's a remarkable feat, considering Gold Creek has only been making cheese for three years, according to cheesemaker Fernando Chavez. He noted that in 2010 and 2011, the cheeses won awards in national competitions.
"But this was our first world competition, and my expectations were very low. We're talking about competing with Europe and the great cheeses of the world," Chavez said in a telephone interview. "I told my wife if I saw the name of our farm in number 10 or 20, I would be happy."
Instead, he scrolled down the online list of winners and saw Gold Creek at the top of the list.
"I come from a family of cheesemakers in Mexico, so for me, it's a family thing, and an honor for the farm where I work."
Gold Creek is owned by Alan and Debbie Gold. "They live in California but they spend time up here and travel back and forth," said Chavez. "On the cheese side, they have give me 100 percent control."
The milk comes from the farm's own Brown Swiss cows. Much of their feed is raised on the farm. They are also fed "stillage" from Park City's High West Distillery. This is a rich grain residue left over from High West's whiskey-making process.
"We don't know it scientifically, but I think the feed has something to do with the quality," Chavez said.
He chose to smoke the cheese with cherry wood, "because it's not meant to be used for cheese. People think of apple wood," he said. "When I was a chef, I would do the opposite of what was expected to come up with something unique. So I did cherry wood because it wasn't expected to be with cheese. Nobody has had anything like it, and it's become our signature cheese."
The cheeses are sold locally at Harmon's stores, Liberty Heights Fresh and The Market at Park City. You can also order it online at www.goldcreekfarms.com.
But don't expect bargain-basement prices on this handmade product. On the company website, the award-winning cheddar is $14 for an 8-ounce package. The parmesan is $15 for an 8-ounce package. You can also find cumin-cheddar, maple basil, cherry-sage cheddar, fresh feta and old-fashioned parmesan. Prices range from about $22-$30 per pound.
"We are such a small operation; we produce about 550 pounds of cheese a week, and other companies produce that much in one day," said Chavez. "We try to focus more on quality than quantity."
And speaking of cheese, Harmons Grocery Stores is sponsoring some events with Cecile Delannes, U.S. representative of the French Cheese Club. The locally-owned grocer will host free meet and greets with Delannes at three Harmons' cooking schools.
Delannes is a native to France and has been knighted by the French government for her cheese-making excellence.
Delannes will be at Harmons' City Creek Store on March 15; at Emigration Market on March 16, and at Harmon's Bangerter Crossing on March 17. For information, visit www.harmonsgrocery.com/cooking-school
Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.