Here, from the judging room of the American Cheese Society, are the Best American Cheeses of 2003. For a list of winners in all categories, go to www.cheesesociety.org.
Best of Show
Red Hawk A relatively new, triple cream cheese made by Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes, Calif., from organic milk from the neighboring Straus Family Creamery in Marin. One of the few cheeses in the competition that was ripened with B. linens, an aging room mold that reddens the flowery white rind, giving it a tangy edge. Most disks are sold unripe, and will be white and chalky. To ripen the cheese to the point that the coat is light red and the paste inside runny, golden and rich, remove it from its packaging and set it under a bowl at room temperature for at least 24 hours, or until it is just losing its shape and becoming pillowy. Serve with cider or beer.
Gran Canaria Every taster in the room thought it was an aged gouda, pushed to an almost Parmesan state, but with a distinctive pungency. It turned out to be a wine-cured sheep's milk cheese from Carr Valley in Wisconsin.
Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddar An aged, blond cheddar from Modesto, made in traditional cloth-bound truckles that allow water to slowly evaporate as the cheese ages, creating a strong, simple Cheddar in the style of the Somerset original.
Mobay The name is a pun on the French cheese Morbier from eastern France, which has a line of ash separating morning from afternoon milk. Here, the ash separates sheep's milk from goat's, the sheep milk noticeably more golden than the white, white goat. A light, relatively young cheese with a Swiss, cooked texture, bright milky flavor and clean finish. From Carr Valley in central Wisconsin.
Spring Hill Jersey Dry Jack This is made by a 5-year-old dairy in Petaluma, in Sonoma County. It's identical in style to Ig Vella's famous dry Jack, down to the cocoa-smeared rind, but begins with exceptionally rich Jersey milk.
Weston Wheel An aged sheep's milk cheese made at Woodcock Farm in Vermont, and sold in small wheels. A rich, tangy, superb dessert cheese, similar in style to Vermont Shepherd, where the cheese maker trained.
-- Emily Green