I admit that sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision leaving my cushy office job for a job in cheese. The last weekend in June reinvigorated my passion for the systematically spoiled and aged milk product through the Cheesemonger Invitational and all of the people who came into New York City for the Fancy Food Show.
Although I had to work the day of the Invitational, I made it out for the last hour to grab a couple beers and see my good friend and coworker stand on stage as one of the “top ten cheesemongers in the country.” Congratulations to the top three – All from south of the Mason Dixon line! And a big congrats to the top ‘monger – Justin Trosclair from the St. James Cheese Company in New Orleans, LA.
(Justin tells Culture Magazine why domestic cheeses can be so expensive in this article.)
52 cheesemongers competed in three battles (1)a blind taste test – to identify the milk type, age, pasteurization status, country of origin, style/type, and if possible name; (2) an exam; and (3) a “plate your slate” where cheesemonger selected a cheese from a list provided and asked to create the most delicious and appealing pairing of the cheesemonger’s choice with use of honeys, jams, pickles, crackers… one contestant even used pop rocks!
The top ten proceeded on to another 4 rounds of selling (my friend was judged by LeMunier on his salesmanship of gruyere to LeMunier!) , wrapping, cutting a perfect quarter, third, and half pound a wedge off of a wheel of cheese (within 2/10ths of a pound), creating a pairing on the fly, and a 60 second oration of why you became a monger combined with your favorite cheese and why.
Here’s a promo video from the 2012 battle – I was told by my friend that Adam’s pep talk to the contestants before the battle begun was one of the most inspiring and that he’s never felt so enthusiastic about a job. He came to the contest as a ‘monger, and when the evening was over, he walked away a raw milk rockstar!
And it wasn’t just the Larkin cold storage facility that was packed with people.
People were coming in and out of the cheese shop all weekend. Because the Cheesemonger Invitational and the NYC Fancy Food Show were happening at the same time, Rudolphe Le Munier stopped in to say hello and the shop held a panel of affineurs of cheeses carried through Formaggio Essex – Philippe Goux, affineur of Marcel Petit comte, Betty Koster, owner of L’Amuse goudas; Manuel Maia, premier exporter of Portuguese cheese, and Jose Luis Martin, affineur of Manchego.
Sue Conley and Peggy Smith of Cowgirl Creamery stopped in to see the shop as well as the folks from Cabot and others associated with other cheese shops from around the country.
It was a thrilling event to speak with all of these successful people in the cheese business, I admit, and the air was simply electric! Although I didn’t get a pep talk directly from Adam Moskowitz, I just felt pretty damn proud to be a cheesemonger.