Guest Editorial  

 

A Different View On The American Cheese Society

Greg O'Neill
Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine
ACS President (2012-2014)
greg.oneill@pastoralartisan.com

August 24, 2018

 

In the July 20 issue of the Cheese Reporter, a former president of the American Cheese Society (ACS), Dan Strongin, (see Dan's column here) spoke to the organization and industry of which he was a part back when he was living and working in the US over 20 years ago. Having just attended the ACS Annual Conference in Pittsburgh, serving as a judge in the ACS Judging & Competition, and as a past president of ACS myself, I felt compelled to provide my own perspective. At the ACS Conference in Pittsburgh last month, I found community. I found the old cheese guard mingling with young, passionate newcomers. I felt a buzz of positivity. I attended educational sessions addressing today’s cheese industry on issues from digital grocery sales to the struggles of small dairy farmers to the microbiology of cheese rinds. People were striving to continue to make great tasting, high quality American cheese an expectation, not a novelty.

Mr. Strongin waxed nostalgic about a bygone era when artisan cheese was a burgeoning and marginal part of the cheese industry. Based on the passion of those early American cheese makers, the specialty and artisan cheese industry has become the fastest growing part of the cheese market and the largest segment of specialty food sales in the US.

ACS has grown with it, evolving and changing to accommodate and serve the evolving and changing needs of its members. ACS did not change; the industry’s landscape changed. As a non-profit organization with a mission to serve the cheese industry, ACS’s role is not to tell the industry what to be, but to help it become the best version of what its stakeholders want and need it to be.

In reality, the first ACS meeting in 1983 was five times the size noted by Mr. Strongin, with 150 cheese makers and educators coming together. Many of those in attendance say they met because they had nowhere else to go to find the information and support they needed. They were not fighting the establishment so much as working together to make their products a welcome and respected part of that establishment.

Guess what? They succeeded. And not only is American artisan and specialty cheese now of the highest quality, highly respected, and highly sought-after by consumers, it also rivals the best cheeses from around the world. I would venture to say that those early ACS founders would be pleased to see ACS thriving in its 35th year, with a Strategic Plan focused on cheese makers, and taking a leadership role to keep it there through education, professional certifications, food safety resources, and regulatory advocacy. Over the years, the American Cheese Society has become so much more than an annual conference and competition.

I urge readers to take a broader perspective and look at the specialty cheese industry as a whole. Several small producers of 30 years ago are large, successful producers today, but still make cheese using traditional methods. Whether they remain independently owned or have sold to dairy corporations, they have grown while retaining both their brand identity and integrity.

The craft beer industry faced the very same challenges when small batch producers of the 1980s became global corporations owned by multi-nationals, and then again when consolidation changed the beer industry further. Certain groundbreaking brewers initially struggled to find success, but they ultimately laid the groundwork for the resurgence of craft brewing in America. Rather than begrudge them their success, the niche community sought their expertise and continued to welcome them.
In return, they stepped forward to give back in order to support the new, smaller, up-and-coming brewers – raising awareness and ultimately lifting the entire industry.

Similarly, cheese makers who have found success have worked hard to give back to their employees and to the next generation of artisan cheese makers.

ACS fosters collaboration where others might only see competition, and is able to expand opportunities for small producers through the generous support of larger companies. Businesses need not be vilified for their success and growth. It is how they use that expanded platform and opportunity that defines them.

It is true that one cannot be all things to all people. It is true that neither ACS nor any other organization is perfect. It is also true that growth is not necessarily an indicator of success nor of failure.

ACS does many things very well, and as a small organization with a handful of staff and a tight budget, it also seeks to align strategically with other industry groups to maximize impact and resources for the industry.
To that end, ACS has developed a Guild Leaders Network, not only to get vital information and accurate resources to small producers who may not be ACS members, but to assist regional guilds in operating successfully.
Key resources such as the ACS Best Practices Guide for Cheesemakers, the award-winning Safe Cheesemaking Hub, and the ACS Cheese and Dairy Products Lexicon and Glossary are free to all – not just ACS members.

ACS even published a guide calling upon its event planning expertise to help cheese guilds plan their own festivals, the ACS Cheese Festival Planning Guide. ACS has proven its dedication to developing valuable resources and making them available free of charge to the public in order to reach the most possible cheese makers.

Idealism and success need not be mutually exclusive. By embracing partnerships and inclusivity, rather than divisiveness and the old status quo, organizations can combine idealism and success seamlessly and for the betterment of stakeholders.

In putting together my thoughts on this and discussing this with others, I realized something important. It is not just me who feels this way.

Many past ACS presidents remain engaged with the organization, support its efforts to be sustainable and help members be sustainable, and continue to actively participate in ACS events and activities.

Therefore, I sign this letter – but many of them join me in stating their support, resolve, and trust in an organization they helped nurture and grow.

We invite you to visit us at www.cheesesociety.org to learn more about the efforts of the ACS and the ability to contact us directly.

/s/ Greg O’Neill
ACS President (2012-2014)

With the express support of the following former/current ACS Presidents:
Ruth Anne Flore, 1997-1999
Kathleen Shannon Finn 1999-2001
Bill McKenna, 2001-2002
Allison Hooper, 2005-2008
David Gremmels, 2008-2010
Christine Hyatt, 2010-2012
Peggy Smith, 2014-2015
Jeff Jirik, 2016-2017
John Antonelli, 2017-2018
Cathy Gaffney, 2018-2019

Editor’s Note: To read the original Dan Strongin column, visit: www.cheesereporter.com/Strongin/strongin.htm

The views expressed in this and Dan Strongin’s column do not necessarily represent the views of the Cheese Reporter.

 



Cheese Reporter welcomes letters to the editor. Comments should be sent to: Dick Groves by Fax at (608) 246-8431; or e-mail your comments to
dgroves @cheesereporter.com.

 

 

 

 

Greg O'Neill is owner of Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine.

He served as president of the American Cheese Society from 2012 - 2014

You can direct comments to him by emailing: greg.oneill@pastoralartisan.com.