World Cheese Awards heads to Spain alongside first International Cheese Festival

By Jim Cornall contact

- Last updated on GMT

San Sebastián, European City of Culture, is hosting the inaugural International Cheese Festival and the 29th World Cheese Awards. Pic:©iStock/Karol Kozlowski/gheorauris
San Sebastián, European City of Culture, is hosting the inaugural International Cheese Festival and the 29th World Cheese Awards. Pic:©iStock/Karol Kozlowski/gheorauris

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San Sebastián in Spain will become the unofficial dairy capital of the world, at least for a few days, when it plays host to the 29th annual World Cheese Awards and the inaugural International Cheese Festival.

The city, which is the current European Capital of Culture and is also known by its Basque name of Donostia, will welcome cheese lovers, tourists and industry professionals from around the world to events being held at the Kursaal Congress Centre from November 16 to 18.

The World Cheese Awards judging will take place on the first day.

John Farrand, managing director of the Guild of Fine Food, organizers of the World Cheese Awards, told DairyReporter this year there are 31 different countries represented at the World Cheese Awards, entering a record-breaking 3,021 cheeses between them.

All the entries will be judged to identify those cheeses deemed worthy of a Bronze, Silver or Gold award, before the World Champion Cheese is crowned later in the afternoon.

At the cheese festival, there will be discussions of dairy industry issues in a conference environment. Consumers will also have the opportunity to learn about cheeses from around the world through talks, which will raise awareness of local artisan cheese production and help promote the region’s culture, food and tourism.

Extending the scope

Farrand said the Guild of Fine Food was very flattered to be invited to San Sebastián by Artzai Gazta, an association of non-profit producers in the region, during the city’s tenure as European Capital of Culture.

“We are hugely excited about the World Cheese Awards being the showpiece event at the International Cheese Festival next week,”​ Farrand said.

cheese festival

“We were drawn to San Sebastián for so many reasons, not least the city’s undoubted culinary clout on the world stage and the incredible local cheeses of the Basque Country.

“The World Cheese Awards pulls together the global cheese community each year, so will bring curd nerds everywhere to the International Cheese Festival and offer the producers of the Basque Country a wonderful platform to showcase their cheeses.”

Farrand added that the festival's program of consumer events will also bring a new crowd of cheese lovers, helping to extend the reach of the World Cheese Awards still further.

A huge undertaking

The event is the culmination of a great amount of work behind the scenes, Farrand said.

“Staging the World Cheese Awards is a mammoth task, involving a huge team of nearly 500 people worldwide, from event planners and administrators to judges and sponsors,” ​he said.

“Cheeses from over 30 different countries are channelled through one of 12 international consolidation points, as the competition’s global network of experts gather entries from their region, before transferring them to the World Cheese Awards venue.

“Each cheese is assigned a unique number and checked in at every stage of its journey, finally taking its position in the World Cheese Awards arena to be blind-tasted by the judges.”

Uniting artisan cheesemakers with consumers

As the event enters its 29th​ year, Farrand said there have been many changes since the first event.

“The World Cheese Awards was established nearly three decades ago to help bring the work of fantastic artisan cheesemakers to a wider audience, at a time when mass-produced cheeses were starting to dominate the market in the UK and other parts of the world,”​ he explained.

“With the best of the bunch clearly accredited by trusted experts, retailers worldwide have been able to use the list of winners as a guide to help fill their counters with exceptional quality cheeses, which in turn has ignited consumer interest and fuelled a growing appetite for cheese.”

Farrand said the event has grown year on year and is always searching for new ways to reach out to more cheesemakers and ensure the judging process is as robust as possible.

“But essentially, we’re still driven by the same desire to get top class artisan cheeses to more and more consumers,”​ he said.

Cheese changes

“Since it all began in 1988, we’ve seen so many new producers emerge and an ever-increasing variety of cheeses available in cheese counters everywhere we go, so it’s clear that cheese consumption has been steadily on the rise - in terms of both quantity and quality,”​ Ferrand said.

donostia cheese
The event is expected to boost awareness of local cheese products. Pic: ©International Cheese Festival

“This year, we have everything from Cheddar and Manchego to cheeses refined with elderflower juice and rind washed in whisky, so innovation is clearly alive and well.”

He said the awards even has its first ever entry from Mozambique.

“A soft goat's cheese rolled in cashew nuts and dipped in chilli chocolate sauce, which should get our judges talking.”

Overall, Ferrand said, the industry appears to be in great shape.

“We like to think that the World Cheese Awards plays a central role in all of this, helping to bring the worldwide cheese community together and showcase the wonderful work of artisan cheesemakers in front of a global audience.”

DairyReporter will be attending the event. 

World Cheese TV will be live streaming the highlights and announcements throughout the day of the judging (Wednesday, November 16) on www.gff.co.uk/wca​.

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