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Local Cheesemaker Wins Awards

POSTED March 23, 2011 12:55 a.m.

Oakdale’s John Bulk is now able to add to his family’s award wall at Oakdale Cheese and Specialties. 

Bulk, the head cheesemaker for the 27-year-old family business, was recognized in three categories at the 2011 US Championship Cheese Contest held in Madison, Wisconsin earlier this month.

Bulk’s cumin Gouda won Best of Class in the Flavored Gouda category and his organic Artisan cheese was awarded Best of Class in the Open Semi-Soft Cheese category. His goat Gouda placed second by half a point in the Hard Goat Cheese category to the cheese that went on to win overall Best of Show.

The US Championship Cheese contest is the largest such competition in the country with more than 120 years of history. There were over 1600 entries in 76 judged categories for the national event. Bulk entered only three of his cheeses and all won awards, beating out entries from across the country.

“Seeing my cheeses on top was quite an accomplishment,” said Bulk. “It’s really something in the industry when you beat a cheese from Wisconsin.”

Bulk said that the majority of competition comes from Wisconsin and the judges seem to “have a palate for Wisconsin cheese.”

Bulk, 28, has been making cheese with his family for as long as he can remember. He went on to study Dairy Processing and Agriculture Business at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo where he obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in 2005. Since then, he’s been the head cheesemaker for the family business that moved to Oakdale from Escalon in 1995.

The Cumin cheese Bulk entered was randomly selected from Oakdale Cheese and Specialties’ shelves. The recipe is a traditional Holland recipe brought over to the US by his family. Bulk credits the victory to the milk they purchase from an Oakdale dairy.

The organic Artisan cheese Bulk produces is made for the Burroughs Family Farm in Turlock. It’s made from grass-fed cow milk that Bulk said gave it a grassy flavor. The Goat Gouda is produced for Central Coast Creamery in Paso Robles.

“I’m proud to get these (awards), that’s for sure,” Bulk said. “It reinforces I’m doing things right.”

Oakdale Cheese and Specialties didn’t enter the championship cheese contest in the last three previous years and it’s been 10 years since they’ve won an award at the competition.

“We only enter if we feel the cheese is worthy of competition,” Bulk said. “There are many traditional Dutch family cheeses to compete against.”

Bulk said he spends two to four days a week making cheese and also attends various farmers’ markets where he sells the product.

Oakdale Cheese and Specialties is on Highway 120, just north of the River-Rodden Road intersection and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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