MaryAnne Drake is NC State’s expert on all things cheese

October 11, 2012
By Bill Krueger

When the American Cheese Society came to Raleigh for its annual convention in August, the trade group that supports artisanal cheesemakers didn’t have to look far to find an experienced judge.

MaryAnne Drake, director of NC State’s Sensory Service Center, not only helped judge 1,700 hunks of cheese, she also gave a presentation to a sold-out crowd of cheddar enthusiasts and served as co-chair of the conference.

The Sensory Service Center, where researchers use information from ordinary consumers and high-tech machines to help food processors improve their products, is featured in the upcoming issue of NC State magazine.

Rebecca Sherman, director of marketing for the Denver-based cheese society, said the resources of NC State and its food science program were  part of what made the conference so successful. “Being near an academic center like that was great for us,” she said. “And MaryAnne Drake’s work is really interesting to our members.”

Drake’s presentation focused on one of her specialties: cheddar cheese. Her lab staff chopped up more than 2,500 samples for her talk on regional and international differences in cheddar cheese flavors. Attendees also learned about the range of flavors from factors such as feed, milk and the room in which a cheese is aged.

The conference’s cheese contest attracted the largest number of entries — 1,711 from  254 companies — since the society began holding a contest 28 years ago. Categories ranged from Monterey Jack to Camembert to feta, and included nine kinds of cheddars. Each entry was evaluated by two judges, Sherman said, a technical judge and an aesthetic judge.

Drake was a technical judge, whose job it is to take away points for flaws found in a cheese. The aesthetic judge can add points for such qualities as flavor. Every cheesemaker gets a score sheet back, so everyone who enters gets valuable feedback on their products.

The conference participants also took a field trip to Schaub Hall to see two cheese-making demonstrations, one on Havarti cheese and the other on Alpine-style cheese. And just to make sure the cheesemakers at the conference knew that NC State’s interest in dairy products went beyond cheese, Howling Cow peach ice cream was served at one of the networking breaks.

— Sylvia Adcock ’81

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