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Who Really Cuts the Cheese?

CMI Founder and host Adam Moskowitz keeps the crowd energized and the cheese samples flowing.

These 51 cheesemongers do a whole lot more than simply cut the cheese. They also weigh it, wrap it, plate it, study it, store it, and sell it on a daily basis. And in June 2013, they showed off these skills at the fourth annual Cheesemonger Invitational in New York, a competition that’s a bit like “Iron Chef,” “Jeopardy,” and “Survivor” all rolled into one and fueled by plenty of food and drinks. Held over a 14-hour day that included blind taste tests and a written exam, the competition is a chance to prove professional chops (and win $1,000 and a trip to salumi camp).

the 52 cheesemonger competitors from the 2013 cmi

52 mongers competed in the 2013 Cheesemonger Invitational.

During the “perfect bite” stage, mongers must use three ingredients (including a cheese) to create 100 perfectly balanced bites within one hour.

During the “perfect bite” stage, mongers must use three ingredients (including a cheese) to create 100 perfectly balanced bites within one hour.

At a faux cheese counter, mongers “sell” to judges.

At a faux cheese counter, mongers “sell” to judges.

Justin Trosclair, of St. James Cheese Co. in New Orleans, La., presents his handmade sign for Vermont Creamery’s Bonne Bouche.

Justin Trosclair, of St. James Cheese Co. in New Orleans, La., presents his handmade sign for Vermont Creamery’s Bonne Bouche.

Frank Schuck of Seattle, representing Whole Foods Market-Pacific Northwest, incorporates pickled beets into his “perfect bites.”

Frank Schuck of Seattle, representing Whole Foods Market-Pacific Northwest, incorporates pickled beets into his “perfect bites.”

A flotilla of perfect bites.

A flotilla of perfect bites.

During the wrapping round, finalists have 30 seconds to wrap as many cheese wedges as possible. Luke Johnson, of Lucy’s Whey in New York, gets down to business.

During the wrapping round, finalists have 30 seconds to wrap as many cheese wedges as possible. Luke Johnson, of Lucy’s Whey in New York, gets down to business.

Serious snacking ensues during the Invitational’s final hours, when doors open to the public.

Serious snacking ensues during the Invitational’s final hours, when doors open to the public.

Kris Garrand, of New York’s Bedford Cheese Shop, seals a wedge in the wrapping round.

Kris Garrand, of New York’s Bedford Cheese Shop, seals a wedge in the wrapping round.

Katie Carter, of Arrowine in Arlington, Va., shows off her ideal bites, featuring radish slices, Vermont Creamery’s Cremont, lavender seeds, and Pop Rocks.

Katie Carter, of Arrowine in Arlington, Va., shows off her ideal bites, featuring radish slices, Vermont Creamery’s Cremont, lavender seeds, and Pop Rocks.

Beer samples keep attendees hydrated.

Beer samples keep attendees hydrated.

During the cutting challenge, Kyle Miller, of Forward Foods in Oklahoma City, checks his work on a scale.

During the cutting challenge, Kyle Miller, of Forward Foods in Oklahoma City, checks his work on a scale.

As the night winds down, the crowd gets worked up.

As the night winds down, the crowd gets worked up.

After his victory is announced, champion Justin Trosclair celebrates with a cold shower of Brooklyn Brewery’s Summer Ale.

After his victory is announced, champion Justin Trosclair celebrates with a cold shower of Brooklyn Brewery’s Summer Ale.

After allowing news of his victory to soak in, Justin Trosclair shared his thoughts on the event:

“Entering the 2013 Cheesemonger Invitational was kind of random for me this year. I came in second in 2012 and to be frank, I was happy enough getting second and calling it a day. The first year I competed was really nerve-wracking! So when Richard, the owner of St. James Cheese, asked if I wanted to compete this year, I said, ‘Not really.’ We went back and forth talking about it and decided that somebody should represent Louisiana and St. James. I sucked it up and got out there.

“That being said, I think that the Cheesemonger Invitational is a truly unique and special event. It’s just as much a grueling and difficult competition as it is an opportunity to meet new people from the industry and celebrate this wonderful thing that we get to do every day.

“The most difficult part of the competition for me was the cheese identification round. Unless you recognize the cheese by sight, you constantly second-guess your instincts. You get a 1-ounce piece of cheese that could literally be anything. When you don’t allow your brain to narrow down a decision in any way, it is extremely difficult to trust your judgment.”

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