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New England Regional Cheese Competition Judges

Susan Fallon Brennan, Hollis, NH

Being a girl from Western Massachusetts I never missed a year going to The Big E. So you can only imagine how delighted I was to be recommended and then asked to be an Aesthetic Judge for the 2018 Big E Gold Medal Cheese Competition.

My background has always been very food focused. I graduated from UMASS Amherst in their HRTA program. I completed both the Pastry and Culinary programs at the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC. As well as completing the Gastronomy graduate certificate program at Boston University. I have worked in restaurants, hotels and retail stores in many cases in a management position. About seven years ago I moved over to the distribution side of the food industry.

As part of the Seacrest Foods sales team I currently handle independent accounts and smaller chains. I have also been working on sourcing and buying small locally produced products from New England. Couet Farm, Dancing Goat, Grace Hill Farm and New England Charcuterie were among the first. The program stemmed from our work with the Massachusetts Cheese Guild. Seacrest has been an active supporter for the Guild since the beginning. And I am co-chair for this year's Massachusetts Cheese Festival.

Lisa Caprera, Pine Grove Mills, PA

Lisa Caprera is currently a master's student of food science at the Pennsylvania State University under Dr. Kerry Kaylegian. Her research has focused on helping farmstead and artisan cheesemakers improve cheese safety, quality, and consistency through training, educational resources, and sensory evaluation. She has worked closely with cheesemakers in Pennsylvania through research and as a volunteer for the Pennsylvania Cheese Guild.

Lisa first became interested in judging cheese through the collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest and has volunteered behind the scenes at the World Championship Cheese Contest, American Cheese Society Contest, and Pennsylvania Farm Show cheese contest. She is a firm believer in the power of sensory evaluation as a tool for troubleshooting and tracking cheese quality. Lisa is honored to return as a judge this year and is awed by all of the talented farmers, cheesemakers, and educators who make great cheese possible.

Alexander Crabb, Cambridge, MA

Contrary to popular belief, Alex Crabb was not raised by a swarm of bees. His childhood was spent in Ann Arbor, Michigan assisting his dad with ice carving, butter sculpting, and found object landscaping. As a teenager Alex got his first restaurant job at the famed Zingerman's Delicatessen in Arbor Ann where he discovered his passion for cooking.

He enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, and landed a coveted internship at the French Laundry in Napa. After graduating, Alex joined James Bread Award-winning Chef Frank McClelland at the critically acclaimed Boston restaurant L'Espalier. For seven years, he engrained himself in fine dining and contributed to menu development, procurement of the finest ingredients, and operations at Apple Street Farm.

A number of culinary endeavors have taken Alex around the world, most notably traveling to Denmark in 2011 to stage at the renowned "Best Restaurant in the World," Noma.

In 2013, Alex opened Asta in the heart of Boston's Back Bay. Here. he celebrates the bounty of New England's agrarian renaissance with playful presentations of ingredients that highlight natural flavors.

Shawn Hockert, Somerville, MA

Shawn Hocket started his career in 1995 as a herdsman of Westfield Farm in Hubbardston, MA, makers of Capri brand goat cheeses. After a year at Westfield Farm performing many aspects of animal husbandry as well as some cheese making functions, Shawn moved to Boston and took a position as a cheese buyer for Bread & Circus. Within six months, he accepted a position at Seacrest Foods where he has been since 1997.

Seacrest Foods is a distributor to retail of cheeses and specialty foods servicing greater New England and the metropolitan area of New York City. While at Seacrest, Shawn has been involved with all aspects of distribution, including customer service, logistics, sourcing, quality control, purchasing, sales, and marketing and is currently the Director of Sales and Purchasing. In his role of sourcing and sales, Shawn has traveled extensively throughout the US and Europe, visiting cheese producers of a wide array of styles and traditions. Throughout the many years of experience tasting cheese and striving to understand the nuances of production that lead to flavor components, Shawn has nurtured a passion for understanding what makes a quality cheese.

Steven Murphy, Freeville, NY

Steve Murphy retired from Cornell University in 2016 as a Sr. Extension Associate with the Department of Food Science. He began his career as a laboratory technician and joined the Dairy Foods Extension program in 1991 where he coordinated, developed and participated in extension based programs covering dairy product testing, quality and safety. Steve's primary responsibilities was with the Fluid Milk Shelf-Life program, an extension based program funded by NYS dairy farmers designed to assist processors in understanding and improving milk quality and shelf-life.

In January 2017, Steve became the Executive VP of the Dairy Practices Council (DPC) overseeing the workings of the organization of education, industry and regulatory members charged with writing guidelines that contain practical information covering procedures and best practices from dairy farm to dairy manufacturing facilities. Steve oversees the guideline development, update and distribution process; membership; and coordination of the Annual Conference.

Steve is an active member of the New York State Association for Food Protection and the International Association for Food Protection as well as the DPC. He is a member of the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments HACCP Implementation Committee involved with the development and implementation of HACCP regulation and training for industry and regulatory personnel. He is a listed trainer for Preventative Controls Qualified Individual standardized curriculum recognized by FDA in meeting training requirements under the Food Safety Preventive Controls Rule. He served as dairy product judge for the NY State Dairy Product Competition for over 25 years and was in invited technical judge for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 American Cheese Society Annual Meeting.

Steve has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Microbiology (1979) and a Master's Degree in Food Science (1997), both from Cornell Univerisity.

Phil Peterson, Brookline, MA

Philip Peterson was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Early work in foodservice began with fast food, but quickly transitioned to a position at the famed Zingerman's Delicatessen.

His time at Zingerman's sparked a love of food that was nurtured through his time at the University of Michigan (Go Blue!), and inspired his next move: At the turn of the century Phil moved to Boston to work with another Zingerman's alum, Rene Becker at his acclaimed bakery, Hi-Rise Bread Co.

From there, he transitioned into the procurement and sales side of the food biz, taking a job with Specialty Foods Boston. At Specialty, along with general management, Peterson focused on meat, cheese and seafood -- sourcing products from as close as his background -- greater New England -- to as far-flung as Europe and Hawaii.

This passion for getting the source of the product continues today in his position as Global Purchaser for our group of restaurants. Phil's days are filled with trips to Maine to pull lobsters out of the ocean, early mornings in New England Produce Center, daily visits to Boston Fish pier, as well as the meat packing center of Newmarket Square. In short; if you want it, Phil will find the best of it for you.

Elena Santogade, Brooklyn, NY

Elena began her cheese career with a robust home cheesemaking hobby that eventually bubbled up into a full-blown career. An American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional, Elena opened and managed two cheese-focused retail stores in New York City.

She worked with Connecticut-based Arethusa Farm in 2017 on product development and sales, and in 2017 her book, The Beginner's Guide to Cheesemaking, was published by Rockridge Press. She's currently based out of Brooklyn, NY and works in cheese sales and development. Elena is also the producer and host of the venerable cheese industry podcast, Cutting the Curd, she teaches cheese classes and pursues ongoing cheese-focused media and writing endeavors.

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Jim Wallace, Shelburne Falls, MA

I began working for NECS as far back as 2001 with Ricki Carroll and now with her daughter Sarah.

With a background in MicroBiology I became the technical advisor for the company helping customers troubleshoot and solve issues with their cheese production as well as monitoring our cultures and rennet for quality.

In addition I was given the opportunity to follow one of my own special interests in the traditional processes of cheesemaking which soon took me to visit established cheesemakers here in the USA and then in the mountains and valleys of Europe, especially France, Italy, and Switzerland.

Since 2005 I have spent 3-4 weeks every year exploring and writing about the history, people, and traditional cheeses of Europe. With over 100 articles for different cheeses on our website ( to date.
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