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Review: Epcot Food and Wine Festival Cheese Seminar

Everyone knows my deep and passionate love for all things cheese, right?

I’ve met very few varieties that I didn’t love…from classic plastic cheese all the way to the fanciest cheese plates available at Disney World.

Cheese Tasting Plate and Table Decor at Epcot Food and Wine Festival Cheese Seminar

This fact made taking part in a Cheese Seminar during the opening weekend of the Epcot Food and Wine Festival even more ideal for me! (Can you believe I’d never done a Cheese Seminar before?!?)

So on the first Saturday of the Festival, I hightailed it over to the Festival Center to take part in this seminar that I’ve been wanting to experience for a while. Today, I’m excited to have you join me!

Atmosphere

Doing a Cheese Seminar in Disney World might mean drinking two glasses of wine at 10:30, so just be prepared for that! ;-) (Ah…the things I do for you!)

Seminar Ticket

This event takes place at the Festival Center’s Chef’s Showcase Stage.

You can pick up your ticket at the Will Call desk at the front of the Festival Center before you arrive for the event.

Presenter's Staged and Seated Guests

As you can see, seating for my event was pretty much sold out! And we were in close quarters (they really do pack you in!). But there’s cheese and wine, so who cares?

Guests Up Close

Seating here happened to be at assigned tables (you can see I was to sit at the “Oregano” table), and you’ll probably have to at least exchange pleasantries with strangers unless you go with a huge group.

I was impressed with the settings here. In addition to the white tablecloth and black napkins, there were breads, crackers, and assorted fruits, both dried and fresh. The fall decor on the tables was a nice touch, too!

Table Setting

Flat Screen TVs flank the stage so you’ll be able to see the presenter’s power point presentation, or the chef’s cooktop depending on what event you’re enjoying. (FYI — this was my favorite piece of learning from the whole seminar.)

Cheese Facts!

Within minutes of settling into our seats, we were introduced to our resident cheese expert, Max McCalman, who is a real live maître fromager – a master of cheese! Max represents Artisinal in New York City, where I actually had a business meeting once when I lived in NYC! Small world, indeed.

Max is world-renown in “cheese circles,” and is a frequent lecturer on the subject and judge at competitions. He is extremely knowledgeable…and kind of hilarious. I loved it!

Max McCalman, Maître Fromager and the Presenter for Our Tasting

One of the things I enjoy the most from these events are the handouts (and I don’t mean free food, which I also love). These provide a great place to jot down impressions of whatever you’re learning about.

Ticket and List of Cheeses for Tasting

In addition to our sheet for taking notes, Max also provided us with a score sheet for cheese and wine, which gave us a little insight into the judging process. We were to give each cheese and wine pairing a score, ranging from -2 to +2. If the pairing was great, it was a +2. If the pairing was horrible, it was a -2. And there were some +1s and -1s in there, too, of course.

Scoring System for Cheeses

Eats

All of the cheeses that we tasted were American artisanal cheeses, and it was a lot of fun to learn about the world-class versions that are now being produced right here in the United States. I’ve labeled the selections below so you can see which is which.

Cheese Tasting Plate -- Clockwise From Top: Landaff, San Andreas, Caveman Blue, and Cremont

Two wines (as previously mentioned) were selected for pairing with the cheeses: Sterling Vineyards’ Sterling Vintner’s Collection Riesling, as well as the Sterling Vintner’s Pinot Noir.

We tasted each cheese with each wine, and rated them accordingly. Of course, something that I should note is that our wine glasses were continually refilled.

Wines for Cheese Tasting

Our first selection was Cremont, so named for the “Cream of Vermont,” where the cheese is produced. This rich double-cream is made from a combination of cow’s and goat’s milk, with a touch of Vermont cream thrown in for good measure.

First Cheese -- Cremont

Nutty and creamy with a distinctive wrinkled rind, this was incredible — especially when paired with the Riesling and dried fruit.

Cremont on a Cracker

Next, we came to San Andreas. A sheep’s milk cheese, this one is made in the style of a Tuscan pecorino, and had smooth, creamy consistency, with a bit of tang at the finish.

San Andreas

It was a bit oily as you would expect, and had a nutty aroma and strong flavor. I loved this one with the dried apple!

Second Cheese Notes -- San Andreas

For our third selection, we sampled Landaff. Made from raw cow’s milk and based upon a Welsh cheese making tradition, the semi-firm cheese has a mild flavor, and a buttery, open-network texture.

This was one of my favorites! It had a light and airy texture, and the flavor went well with both wines, I thought. It’s also from New Hampshire, and I love New Hampshire (lived there for a while, too! ;-D). (What? Anything can affect your opinion of food…even where it’s from!)

Third Cheese Notes -- Landaff

Our strongest and final selection was Rogue Creamery’s Caveman Blue. Rich and complex, the natural rind allows moisture to escape for a buttery, crystalline texture. This was fantastic with the Reisling and also with some of the dried fruit in the center of the plate! (Clearly I needed honey, though.)

After seeing the Caveman here, I ended up seeing it in multiple other places around Walt Disney World on cheese plates. So I consider that trip to be the Caveman Blue trip.

Fourth Cheese Notes -- Caveman Blue

I had a great time, and I thought the chosen menu truly showcased the incredible artisan cheeses that are coming out of small dairies all across our country. I’m also just a little bit taken with Max and his only-slightly-inappropriate and dry sense of humor, so the fun banter definitely bumped what could be a dry, boring presentation up to an enjoyable event.

Overall

As I said earlier, the Cheese Tasting Seminar was an event that I’ve wanted to try for a while, but I never had enough time to fit it in. And at $80 per person, it isn’t exactly cheap.

However, for the incredible cheeses that we had the pleasure to taste and learn about, together with two full glasses of wine, fruit, bread, and crackers, I was actually pleased with the experience — and surprised at myself for being so. $80 is a LOT of money. But the seminar was practically a show with the amount of laughter that was going on, so you have to incorporate that into the price as well.

This is one of those events that’s going to be perfect for some people and utterly overpriced for others. It really does depend on how much you enjoy cheese and wine pairings, how much you want to learn versus eat, and what your budget is.

As always, if anything requires pushing your budget past the level of comfort, you’ll rarely consider it worth the money. I found the seminar to be worth the money I spent, but not something I’d do every single year.

Cheese Seminars continue through the last Saturday of the Food and Wine Festival, November 10! Hurry and book it now if you’re headed over to Epcot!

Have you had the chance to attend a Food and Wine Festival Cheese Seminar or other event? Tell us about it!

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8 Comments

  1. Alan says:

    $80.00 seems a little high for this event, but it looks like they do a typically well done Disney event. Everything from the cheeses and wines to the printed scorecards are so well done. I would certainly have gone for this one.

  2. lisa fine says:

    I love how detailed your explanations are of the cheeses, and the event. As always, great post, AJ.

    And I’m with you – there aren’t too many cheeses I’ve met that I haven’t liked. :)

  3. AJ says:

    Alan — Yep; I think that’s right. It IS a lot of money, but it will be perfect for some folks! This is going to be worth it for some people, and not for others.

    Lisa Fine — Thanks, Lisa! Yep; I really enjoyed all of them!

  4. Jayne says:

    The tablescape is beautiful.

  5. AJ says:

    Jayne — Agreed!

  6. Vyvacious says:

    This made my mouth water and my heart swell as I was transported back to only a few months ago when I devoured cheese platter upon cheese platter in Paris. I’ve never had Cremont before so I’ll have to sniff around to find some :)

  7. Sera says:

    I’m interested in going to several of the events (this one especially) with my fiancé this year in celebration of us getting engaged. However, neither of us drink alcohol. Will this be a problem at any of the events?

  8. AJ says:

    Sera — There won’t be a problem at all! You’ll have to pay the same amount for a ticket, but you can always ask them to bring you water instead of wine/champagne/beer/whatever.

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