Canada’s oldest—and only—cheese competition under way at The Royal

Judging is about to begin for the 2020 Canadian Cheese & Butter Competition at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

In this year of COVID-19, the 2020 Canadian Cheese & Butter Competition at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is the only such judging and competition in Canada and one of the few such contests in the world this year.

The cheese and butter competition hosted by The Royal is the oldest in Canada, dating back 98 years to 1922 when the Fair was first held at Exhibition Place in Toronto.

Judging this year took place on September 24 with six expert judges sampling and evaluating the 164 cheese and butter entries submitted by producers across Canada.

Judging was live and in-person with masks on except when judges sampled cheese, with plenty of social distancing, temperatures taken at the entrance and hand-sanitizers everywhere.

Once scores have been tabulated and carefully checked, three finalists will be announced in each class.

Winners in each class—there are 33 in all—and the grand champions—the best of the best—will be announced November 10-14 during The Royal Agricultural Virtual Experience on a new, completely free digital platform accessible by all 24-7.

The Royal Agricultural Virtual Experience will be a unique opportunity to experience the very best in Canadian agriculture and food from your laptop, tablet, smart phone or desktop. The Cheese & Butter Competition will be one of several featured presentations at the virtual Fair. Click here for more information and to register.

Here’s the breakdown of entries received from producers in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Alberta:

  • Cheddar 35 entries
  • Variety Cheese (Cow milk) 72 entries
  • Variety Cheese (Goat, Sheep, Water Buffalo and Mixed Milk) 30 entries
  • Butter 21 entries
  • Ghee 6 entries.

The six judges work in pairs, one technical judge and one aesthetic judge. The technical judge starts with a score of 50 and deduct points for flaws and defects while the aesthetic judge starts with zero and awards points for outstanding characteristics and qualities to a maximum of 50. The two scores are added together to obtain the final score for each entry.

The elements under consideration are appearance, aroma, flavour and texture, with flavour being the key element.

Here are the expert judges for the 2020 competition:

Aesthetic Judge André Derrick.

André Derrick, aesthetic judge, is a master at food and drink synergy. He is a certified fromager, Prud’homme beer sommelier, accredited whisky ambassador and certified expert in the service and sale of scotch. He’s co-founder of the Frontier Whiskey Society. André’s lifelong love of learning has propelled him to sip, gulp and nibble at life from many international experiences, including stints at Fairmont Hotels, The BT Hotel Group, Club Med and Vineland Estates Winery. André graduated from the University of Waterloo with an honours combined degree in Recreation and Business. He also earned a graduate certificate in hospitality and tourism management from Niagara College. André is regional account manager for Krinos Foods Canada.

Aesthetic Judge Marla Krisko.

Marla Krisko, aesthetic judge, started her journey in cheese in 2005 when she discovered the Cheese Education Guild and began to study about cheese which quickly became a passion. As a “graduate fromager” she continued her studies, making cheese at the Three Shepherds Cheese School in Vermont and working at specialty food stores in Toronto and at events like The Great Canadian Cheese Festival. In 2012, with her partner, Lisa McAlpine, Marla bought Cheese Education Guild, the first school in Canada dedicated to cheese appreciation, from retiring founder Kathy Guidi. Since then, she has served as a judge for the Canadian Cheese Awards and The Royal’s Cheese and Butter Competition.

Aesthetic Judge Kelsie Parsons.

Kelsie Parsons, aesthetic judge, is Category Manager for Deli Cheese for the 450 Sobeys and Safeway stores across Canada. He is the chair of the American Cheese Society’s Certification Committee, which runs the Certified Cheese Professional (CCP) Exam and TASTE (sensory evaluation) Test. Kelsie has worked as a cheesemonger at farmers markets, specialty shops, and grocery stores. He is a Certified Cheese Professional, earned his Cheesemaking Certificate at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese, and has worked as a cheesemaker producing a variety of sheep and goat milk cheeses. He has visited more than 100 cheese companies during an epic cross-Canada road trip.

Technical Judge Barry Reid.


Barry Reid, one of the technical judges, was born into a cheesemaking family. His father was a cheesemaker for 30+ years, Barry was, too, for 15 years. For many years following, Barry was a full-time dairy inspector with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency based out of Belleville Ontario. For the past 35 years, Barry has judged cheese competitions.

Technical Judge Cecilia Smith.

Cecilia Smith, a technical judge, is a professional fromager, certified as a Professional Fromager by George Brown College and the American Cheese Society. She teaches the Professional Fromager Certificate at George Brown College and the Cheese Sensory Evaluation course at Conestoga College. Based in Uxbridge, Ontario, Cecilia owns a retail company that sells Ontario artisan cheese. She has provided consulting services to many restaurants and cheese shops and has used her sensory evaluation skills to assist craft breweries and cidermakers.

Technical Judge Heather Thelwell.

Heather Thelwell, technical judge, says her curiosity and passion for cheese began 25 years ago while living up the hill from a Parmigiano-Reggiano aging facility in the Po River Valley in Northern Italy. Since then, she has worked as a cheesemaker in predominately small ruminant dairies in Ontario, a cheesemonger and a cheese educator. Her credentials include Certified Cheese Maker, University of Guelph, Technical Production of Cheese; University of Vermont, Artisan Cheese Maker Certificate; School of Artisan Food, Wellbeck, Nottinghamshire, in the U.K.

Behind the scenes at the competition, we find:

Lisa McAlpine is one of two Superintendents for the Cheese and Butter Competition. In 2012, Lisa purchased the Cheese Education Guild/Artisan Cheese Marketing from its retiring founder, Kathy Guidi. Since then, she has been involved in teaching cheese knowledge and appreciation classes to deli employees of large retail chains across Canada, to food professionals and enthusiasts and working for the dairy industry as a cheese consultant.

Debbie Levy is the other Superintendent of the Cheese and Butter Competition. She is a graduate of the Chef Training and Baking and Pastry Arts programs at George Brown College, the inaugural Cheese Education Guild class in 2006 and two certificate programs with Acadamie Opus Caseus in France. Since then, Debbie has worked with the dairy and cheese industry promoting fine Canadian cheese.

Roxanne Renwick is in her third year as Judging Facilitator for the Cheese and Butter Competition. She obtained her Professional Fromager Certificate at George Brown College and has spent the last 10 years in the food retail and cheese industry.

Lindsay Bebbington, Manager, Agriculture & Food at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, served as the entry registrar and lead tabulator of scores for the Cheese and Butter Competition.

A big shout out goes to Dairy Farmers of Ontario and Metro for helping make the 2020 Cheese and Butter Competition happen.

We’ll post information about the finalists in each of 33 classes in the competition as soon as it becomes available.

As noted earlier, winners in each class and the grand champions will be announced November 10-14 during The Royal Agricultural Virtual Experience on a new, completely free digital platform accessible by all 24-7.

The Cheese & Butter Competition will be one of several featured presentations at the virtual Fair. Click here for more information and to register.

I was delighted to serve as co-host with Katie Brown when the judging was filmed. The result, including announcement winners and grand champions, will be part of digital presentations online during The Royal Agricultural Virtual Experience.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at, has never met a cheese he didn’t like . . . well, hardly ever.


You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *