2018 Big Cheese Superstars

Waldemar Albrecht

Waldemar Albrecht studied law and business administration in his native Venezuela. After immigrating to the US to follow his passion for gastronomy and culinaria, he received training in cheese from industry leaders like Debra Dickerson, Janet Tarlov, Daphne Zepos, and Juliana Uruburu. In May 2003, Waldemar moved to New York City to become a full time Maitre Fromager at Artisanal restaurant, as well as member of the faculty at Artisanal Premium Cheese, nurturing his education through his mentor and friend Max McCalman. Waldemar is the cheese buyer at Cheese Plus in San Francisco, California.


Vanessa Chang, ACS CCP

Food writer and educator Vanessa Chang believes that the best things in life are fermented: Cheese, wine, beer, good bread, and even chocolate and salumi. Her background in cheese (she is a Certified Cheese Professional) was a foundation to explore the world's other crafted foods and how they play well together. When not researching foods and pairings, she works in food marketing. She teaches across the country and her work has appeared in the New York Times and Sunset.


Chris Cosentino

Passionate author, chef, cyclist and philanthropist, Chris Cosentino is co-owner of San Francisco’s celebrated Cockscomb restaurant, Jackrabbit in Portland, OR, and Acacia House at Las Alcobas, a Luxury Collection Hotel in Napa Valley, with partner Oliver Wharton and parent company Delicious MFG & CO. Cosentino cooked at some of the country’s most beloved restaurants, including Red Sage in Washington, D.C. and Rubicon, Chez Panisse, Belon, and Redwood Park in the Bay Area, before opening Incanto, his first executive chef position. Author of the 2012 cookbook Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal, Cosentino’s long-awaited Offal Good: Cooking from the Heart with Guts, was released in fall 2017, celebrating whole-animal cooking.


Debra Dickerson

Debra Dickerson is the Sales Manager at Tomales Bay Foods.  For more than three decades, she has been selling artisan cheese and giving a voice to cheesemakers at home and abroad.   Strongly committed to cheese education, Debra finds inspiration in teaching the past to grow the future of the cheese industry.  Debra has served on the American Cheese Society Board of Directors and is a founding board member of the Daphne Zepos Teaching Award.  When she’s not selling cheese or bringing people together over food, Debra is often in the company of her beloved dog Xena. 


Janet Fletcher, Author

Janet Fletcher is the publisher of Planet Cheese, a weekly blog and e-newsletter, and the author of close to 30 books on food and wine, including three books on cheese (Cheese & Wine, Cheese & Beer and The Cheese Course). Her writing on food and wine has won three James Beard Awards, and her work has been published in The New York Times, Saveur and Food & Wine. Janet is the cheese columnist for Specialty Food and SOMM Journal magazines, and she teaches cheese-appreciation classes around the country.  (www.janetfletcher.com)


Rich Higgins

Rich Higgins is all things beer: brewmaster, beer travel operator, educator, trainer, public speaker, and a consultant to breweries and restaurants. He is one of 16 Master Cicerones in the world, and additionally is a Certified Sommelier. He runs Beer Immersion educational beer tourism trips to Belgium and Germany. Based in San Francisco, he has curated beer programs at a dozen San Francisco restaurants and has helped launch three craft breweries. Contact him at www.richhiggins.com.


Kirstin Jackson

Kirstin Jackson is the author of “It’s Not You, It’s Brie: Unwrapping Amiercan’s Unique Culture of Cheese.” Kirstin Jackson is both a cheesemaking teacher and a wine and cheese educator.  She loves showing people how to make creamery burrata pillows as much as she adores pairing her new favorite local wheels with wine. She blames her parents who took her on trips to the California dairy country at a very young age for feeding her obsession.  


Charlie Kalish

Charlie Kalish is a cheese industry professional and expert on French and American artisan cheese. He obtained his training in traditional French cheesemaking in central and southern France, making cow, goat and sheep milk cheese. He trained in affinage (professional cheese aging) with two of the world's leading cheese aging companies, Mons Fromager et Affineur in France's Rhône Alps and Cellars of Jasper Hill in Vermont. He is a contributor to Cheese Connoisseur magazine and active member of the American cheese community, leading industry workshops to cheesemakers across the USA and Australia.

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Michael Kalish

Michael Kalish began his food career in commercial beekeeping in Santa Barbara County and got his first taste of wine and cheese while working for a cheese shop and joining a wine crush in Healdsburg, California. He was the first American to receive formal training in dairy and meat processing in the Piedmont, Italy, at l'istituto lattiero caseario e delle tecnologie agroalimentari. He has since worked for, and trained under, some of Europe's finest artisan cheesemakers and affineurs (professional cheese agers), including Mons, Fromager et Affineur (FR) and Luigi Guffanti (IT). In the USA, Michael managed operations for Artisanal Premium Cheese in NYC and has taught affinage and cheesemaking workshops United State and Australia.


Michael Landis

Michael Landis is the Director of Education for the Institut du Fromage in Atlanta, GA.  A former Marine, with over 25 years of experience in the wine, beer, and food industry, Michael educates and conducts pairing classes at the Institut du Fromage as well as at cooking schools, vineyards, breweries, and trade shows across the country.  He is an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional and Authorized Educator, Court of Master Level 1 Sommelier and certified Cicerone beer server.  Michael regularly judges cheese at the World Cheese Awards, the International Cheese Awards, and the Global Cheese Award.  He was inducted into the International Guilde des Fromages in 2011.


Erika McKenzie-Chapter

Erika McKenzie-Chapter is Pennyroyal Farm's head cheesemaker and herd manager.   She has a Bachelors Degree in Animal Science with a Dairy & Livestock Production emphasis and a Masters Degree in Animal Biology from UC Davis.  Before opening Pennyroyal Farm with fellow UC Davis grad Sarah Bennett, Erika apprenticed on a small farmstead goat dairy in France and worked as the head cheesemaker for Redwood Hill Farm.  Since launching the creamery in 2012, Pennyroyal Farm's cheese has earned national awards as well as Best in Show Awards multiple times at the California State Fair.


Chef Sergio Emilio Monleón and Chef Emily Sarlatte

Our Bubbles Brunch is hosted by chef-owner Sergio Monleón of Berkeley's La Marcha Tapas Bar. A California native, Chef Sergio Emilio Monleón was raised in a Spanish household and has always loved Spanish culture and, more importantly, Spanish food. Though formally trained in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was six unforgettable years in Madrid that changed everything for Chef Monleón. Chef Monleón worked for nearly 20 years in Bay Area restaurants, and met his business partner, Chef Emily Sarlatte at Trattoria La Siciliana, one of Berkeley’s top Italian restaurants. A proud native of Oakland, California, Chef Emily Sarlatte turned an early interest in culinary arts into a career, spending time studying in Spain. In 2012 the pair opened Ñora Cocina Española, a popular mobile catering business specializing in paella and Spanish-influenced cuisine. Chef Monleón and Chef Sarlatte joined forces again in Fall 2015 to open a full-service restaurant: La Marcha, a rustic, neighborhood tapas bar in the heart of Berkeley. Chef Sarlatte is joining us in the Best Bite competition. Chef Monleón and Chef Sarlatte are both Certified Specialists of Wine.


Rachel Perez 

Growing up with a French father, cheese was always in Rachel’s blood. Even as a child, she gave her family detailed tasting notes about the cheese plate at the dinner table. She joined the cheese world in 2006. Rachel Perez worked in independent cheese shops, international grocery stores, French cheese makers and cheese importers across the United States and Europe.  She is currently a category specialist for Tony’s Fine Foods. Rachel has been an active member of the American Cheese Society Judging and competition committee since 2011.  She is a Certified Cheese Professional and a Garde et Jure in the International Guilde des Fromagers.


Lassa Skinner

Thalassa (Lassa) Skinner is co-founder & owner of the general consumer cheese magazine Culture, now in its 10th year (sold nationwide). She caught the cheese bug 25 years ago and earned her chops at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA – as well as in restaurant kitchens across the Boston region. In 1999, she headed west and settled in the Napa Valley, where she started a cheese program at Tra Vigne’s wine bar, managed the St. Helena Farmers Market, opened the Oxbow Cheese Merchant in downtown Napa, co-authored Cheese For Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, May 2012) – and started Culture.  Lassa is passionate about spreading the love of cheese across the US and beyond, judging cheese and teaching at venues across the country and overseas as well as partnering with chefs, wineries, breweries and all things food-centric. Always happiest behind a counter, Culture recently launched educational seminars under Lassa’s capable hands, both for industry and for cheese lovers.


Peggy Smith

Peggy Smith, Co-Founder of Cowgirl Creamery, knows her way around a kitchen. Born in Texas and raised in Northern Virginia, she started her culinary career serving hearty suppers to food and folk music lovers at Gallagher’s in Washington, DC.  Her move to San Francisco in 1976 coincided with the food revolution begun by Alice Waters.  Peggy worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley for 17 years before Sue Conley asked her to consider starting a cheese company in Point Reyes; she jumped at the chance.


Liz Thorpe

Liz Thorpe has worked in the cheese business for 15 years, first as the Vice President of New York’s Murray’s Cheese (until 2012) and more recently as the founder of consulting company The People’s Cheese. Her definitive tome The Book of Cheese was published in September of 2017. in it, she maps out hundreds of the world's cheeses from what she calls the "gateway cheeses"-- common, general types most consumers can identify with. From there, Liz helps people discover new cheeses they'll love. She is one of the country's leading experts on cheeses and is regularly sought as a contributor to and expert in publications as diverse as The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, O! Magazine, Epicurious and Cooking Light. Photo by Ellen Silverman.


Juliana Uruburu

Juliana Uruburu has passionately pursued a life of cheese.  For the last thirty years, she has managed cheese stores for the award-winning specialty food retailer Market Hall Foods in Northern California.  In addition to managing, staffing, buying and merchandising for the cheese counters, Juliana produces and directs the sustainable food education promotions and is the Retail Director for Market Hall Foods.  Juliana is a creator and founding member of the California Artisan Cheese Guild.  A frequent panelist and cheese judge at the annual American Cheese Society Conference, Juliana has also been the Lead Judge for the California State Fair Cheese Competition and she was one of the cheese judges for the inaugural Good Food Awards.  She is one of only a handful of Americans to be inducted into two of the most exclusive French cheese societies -- the preeminent Guilde des Fromages de St. Uguzon (2007) and the prestigious Chevalier du Taste Fromage (2010).


Arnaud Weyrich

Arnaud Weyrich is winemaker and vice president of production for Roederer Estate. A native of Alsace, Arnaud was formerly chief technical officer for Champagne Louis Roederer.  He holds a master’s degree in viticulture and enology from Montpellier, France’s most prestigious wine school.


Ian Winget

Ian Winget is the founder of Napa Valley Bitters Company, a boutique bitters company based in Napa, CA, dedicated to crafting world-class bitters.  Ian left his career in Napa’s sparkling wine industry to start Napa Valley Bitters Company in 2013 with the belief that small businesses can make a big difference in their local communities.


Clark Wolf

Clark Wolf is a nationally known food and restaurant consultant, forbes.com commentator and host of At The Table with Clark Wolf on KSRO 1350 AM and 103.5 FM. He was a founder of the American Cheese Society and founded the California Artisan Cheese Guild. He is the author of American Cheeses from Simon and Schuster (2008) and a recent contributor to The Oxford Companion to Cheese. He helped found the nation’s first Food Studies program at NYU and splits his time between Manhattan and a hundred-year-old loggers cabin in the redwoods in Northwestern Sonoma County.