3rd Annual Cheesemonger Invitational Another Slammin' Success
The third annual Cheesemonger Invitational last Saturday was loud, sweaty, and packed. Forty five mongers from all over the country – and the world – began the competition with a written test that, by many accounts, rattled them. Serious questions like “what is the PH of raw cow’s milk” and “what breed of goat produces milk with the highest fat content” would have left me a sniveling mess at square one. Luckily, the contestants knew more than I do.
With a closed house from 2-6pm, the mongers had a chance to focus without the distraction of a roaring crowd. Even so, the nervousness was palpable, and competitors carefully monitored their beer intake (supplied by Brooklyn Brewery and Six Point) to avoid being felled by inebriation.
The following rounds involved identifying a mystery cheese by taste and appearance. When I say identify, I mean identify – that means milk type, age, country of origin, and category. After that, mongers had to sell a cheese to the judges — which involved a handmade cheese sign. This last round was not for the shy, and many left the stage feeling less than great.Ah yes, the judges. Made up of serious cheese heads including Cary Bryant, David Grotenstein, Helen Feete, Liz Thorpe and our own Elaine Khosrova, to name a few, this panel struck fear into the hearts of men and women warehouse-wide. They seemed to stay sequestered in a side room most of the night as well, which merely heightened the suspense.
Meanwhile, last year’s champion Steve Jones was in charge of the food, and could be seen zooming back and forth between long tables decked out in charcuterie, beautiful displays of cheese, piles of bacony popcorn, melting raclette and grilled cheese sammiches. The results of hours of preparation stood magnificent and serene for about 30 minutes in the late afternoon before the crowd descended and decimated everything in minutes. Never underestimate the ingestive powers of hungry cheese lovers.
Back to the fight: in a mass-elimination, the judges cut the contestants down to 10 finalists (well, actually 12 since 3 people tied for 10th place).
The top 12 went head to head for the next three rounds (and 5 hours) beginning with an “introduction,” where each monger told the crowd why they love to work with cheese. This was a good show if you were up front, but a garbled one for those in the back of the house, interrupted by high-volume, rabble-rousing demands from MC/host Adam Moscowitz. “If you love cheese let me here you say MOO!”
No fretting! The next round was high drama: cutting perfect quarter pound wedges by eye! Things got a little dirty here when Poul Price of Consider Bardwell got up to cut and talked some smack. The crowd got miffed, but was mollified by his cuts, which were off the mark. Patrick Coleff of Reliable Cheese in North Carolina aced this round, hitting .25lbs on the dot, and Amy Thompson of Lucy’s Whey hit a not-too shabby .24lbs.
Cheese wrapping came next, which was less of a spectator sport, and went by quickly, followed by the final Plate Your Slate challenge, where mongers showed their true colors with hand picked pairings prepared for the judges. Mongers who hadn’t made the final cut had a chance to plate theirs slates too, and the room was suddenly filled with amazing cheese-bites – like Kate Feuer’s (Rubiner’s Cheesemongers, MA) strawberry shortcake with ricotta and cider.
Sadly, my carriage was about to turn into a pumpkin and I had to head out so I missed the last round, but Adam Smith of Cowgirl Creamery came out the winner! Congratulations, good sir. Have fun with that $1,000!
Overall, it was a hoot and a holler, and we’re all psyched for next year’s fight! For more details click here