Behind the Scenes at the Cheesemonger Invitational
52 contenders, 10 finalists, 15 judges, one zealous emcee and a whole lot of cheese. Here’s a look at one of the most energetic and eccentric competitions in the cheese industry, through the eyes of one of its judges.
by Eva Meszaros
Organized chaos was the theme of the 4th annual Cheesemonger Invitational, held June 29 at Larkin Cold Storage in industrial Long Island City in Queens, N.Y. From the moment the judges arrived just shy of 5 p.m. until the 2013 champion was announced—an hour and a half past schedule—at 10:30 p.m., the event seemed to run on pure adrenaline.
Champion: Justin Trosclair, St. James Cheese Company, New Orleans
Second place: Nadjeeb Chouaf, Whole Foods Market Mid-Atlantic, Charlottesville, VA
Third place: Katie Carter, Arrowine & Cheese, Arlington, VA
Earlybirds were greeted with the frenzy of 50-plus cheesemongers, including Sarah Dvorak of San Francisco’s Mission Cheese and finalist Jillian Weber of New York’s Murray’s Cheese in New York, prepping their samples for the first round of the evening’s competition.
Judges critiqued samples for presentation, taste and the mongers’ ability—and charisma—to talk them up. Plenty of competitors went for creativity points too, such as Arrowine’s Katie Carter, who topped her cheese with lavender pop rocks and ultimately won third place.
Ten finalists were selected to move on to the final four rounds, starting with sign-making skills. Cutting accuracy came next, in which mongers had to eyeball a quarter-pound and third-pound cut from a block of cheese of their choosing. Some were a bit off …
… while others were right on the mark. Next up: cheese wrapping. Finalists had to neatly wrap as many precut wedges as they could manage in under a minute.
Most averaged at 2 to 3 completed wraps, prizing technique over speed. Soon-to-be-champion Justin Trosclair of St. James Cheese Company in New Orleans demonstrates his wrapping skills.
Larkin’s owner and Cheesemonger Invitational master of ceremonies Adam Moskowitz commandeered the stage, drawing attendees and contenders alike into a energetic frenzy that lasted well into the night.
The final round of the competition tested cheesemongers’ on-the-spot judgment. Brooklyn Brewery provided two brand-new, never-before-tasted beers for finalists to choose from and locate the perfect cheese pairing from among the options being samples and served at the event. Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster Garrett Oliver was on hand to detail the two choices of brew: a Belgian-style wheat and a darker porter.
Cheesemongers had 15 minutes to find, cut and plate the ideal cheese pairing for their beer of choice.
Nadjeeb Chouaf (pictured right) of Whole Foods Market Mid-Atlantic preps his cheese slate. He went on to win second place.
Judges convened to taste the beer-cheese pairings, after which overall scores were tallied and the evening’s winners revealed. Congrats to Justin Trosclair, Nadjeeb Chouaf and Katie Carter!
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