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Marin cheesemakers Point Reyes Homestead, Bleating Heart win top state fair honors

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company (pointreyescheese.com) of Point Reyes Station won Best of Show in the Cow's Milk Cheese category, and Bleating Heart Cheese (bleatingheart.com) of Tomales won Best in Show in the Other Milk Type Cheese category at the California State Fair Commercial Cheese Competition.

The 34 California cheese companies which entered the competition range from small artisan producers, to international distributors with large-scale production, but for this competition, it’s all about the product, according to organizers.

"The main feature for the cheese is the flavor. If you don't have good flavor, even if you have a lot of other good characteristics, it’s not a very good product." said Les Wood, retired California Department of Food and Agriculture dairy foods specialist and state dairy inspector, and state fair commercial cheese judge since 1994.

Angie Beard has been working on the competition ever since the state fair started it.

"There were about 50 cheeses the first year, and it was run by just a few people," said Beard, chief commercial cheese entry coordinator. "Now we are up to a small team and 169 entries."

Another fun fact: "Diet Coke is the preferred palette cleanser for judges," she said.

Here are this year's winners:

Best of Show Cow's Milk Cheese: Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, Bay Blue

Best of California Cow's Milk Cultured Cheese: Cultured Classics Organic Crème Fraiche

Best of California Cow's Milk Soft Cheese: California Dairies, Inc., Real Cream Cheese

Best of California Semi-Soft Cow's Milk Cheese: Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, Bay Blue

Best of California Semi-Hard Cow's Milk Cheese: Fiscalini Cheese Company, Bandage Wrapped Cheddar

Best of California Cow's Milk Hard Cheese: Valley Ford Cheese, Montasio

Best of California Cow's Milk Original Cheese: Fiscalini Cheese Company, Lionza

Best of Show Other Milk Type Cheese: 1250 Bleating Heart Cheese, Funky Bleats

Best of California Soft Goat Cheese: Cypress Grove, Fromage Blanc

Best of California Semi-Soft Goat Cheese: Cypress Grove, Truffle Tremor

Best of California Semi-Hard Sheep Cheese: Bleating Heart Cheese, Fat Bottom Girl

Best of California Mixed Milk Original Cheese: Bleating Heart Cheese, Funky Bleats

The California State Fair (CAStateFair.org) will recognize Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company and Bleating Heart Cheese at a special press event on the steps of the Capitol on June 23 along with Best of Show winners in the commercial wine, craft brew and olive oil competitions.

The Best of California award-winners are invited to sample their cheese at a special tasting reception at the annual California State Fair gala June 23 at 5:30 p.m.

During the California State Fair a special “Cheese Shop” sampling center and exhibit will include a display of the award-winning cheese, and best of all, host a variety of California Cheese producers who will be sampling their cheeses, free to California State Fair visitors. The Cheese Shop will be located in the Save Mart Supermarkets California's Kitchen exhibit in Building B.

The 2016 California State Fair runs July 8–24.

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