Can cheese be competitive? That may not be a question that you have ever thought about while snacking on your favorite cheese, but it is a question that is answered by the Cheese Monger Invitational. This is a bi-annual event in New York and San Francisco that transforms the art of cheese mongering into competition.
The competition was started by Adam Moslowitz. He has a family line full of cheese and he created this competition to showcase both cheese and those who learn the art of cheese. He started the competition in 2010 and it has attracted many other cheese mongers who also share his love of cheese mongers.
The competition starts out educationally. There are two days of learning that kick starts the competition. The cheesemongers are able to talk to experts, including producers of the meat and cheese that the mongers sell. The producers share some of their product for the mongers to taste and talk about the business side of the craft. It is a great experience for all because both sides of cheese selling are seen and both sides are able to learn from the other. This portion of the event really showcases the idea that the competition is less about who wins and more about bettering yourself as a cheesemonger.
The competition days are a true test of what it takes to be a craftsman of cheese. The competition begins with a multiple choice exam.The test challenges the mongers on their book knowledge on everything cheese. The educational days really come to play in this portion of the competition. After points are awarded for the test, the mongers move on to a blind tasting challenge. In this test the mongers get a few different, unnamed cheeses. The mongers then have to identify the name origin, milk type, and if the cheese is raw or pasteurized. After this is what Adam calls the “cut wrap wrap” challenge. In station one the mongers attempt to cut a perfect quarter pound piece with three chances. Then they move to the first wrapping station where they have to wrap the cut piece perfectly in 30 seconds. The next wrap is with a 10 pound cheese piece. If done correctly the plastic looks like glass. There is also a smell station where the mongers must identify cheese by smell and Adam has given some very pungent cheese before. Then the mongers move onto a sale challenge. Here the mongers are in a makeshift table shop and the judges come up as customers. The mongers must be able to help the “customer” find what they need. The points are based on how well the mongers sell cheese based on the needs of the customer. If the customers have very specific needs then the monger must meet those needs for more points.
The last challenge before the final is the most creative in the competition. The mongers have three stages in this event: drink pairing, cheese board, and 100 perfect bites. With this portion, the mongers are given preassigned cheese or cheeses to use in the different categories. The goal of this challenge is to be as creative as possible and create something delicious for the judges. With this challenge other mongers are able to taste the competitors’ perfect bites so they can learn and enjoy good food.
The final round of CMI takes the top five mongers based on their past rounds scores. The final begins with an introduction from Adam’s alter ego Mr. Moo. He dons his cow suit and gets everyone excited for the mongers’ introductions that include, name, shop, and favorite cheese. After the introductions from both mongers and Mr. Moo, the competitors enter a cutting round where they try to perfectly cut and wrap as many cheese pieces as they can. The final leg of the competition is a pairing event. The mongers have to perfectly pair a cheese with a choice of locally brewed beer. The judges taste this pairing and then a winner is declared based off of their performance in the final.
Our head cheese monger John is set to compete in this year’s event. He was able to compete last year and placed 7th out of 21 mongers. He hopes to make it to the final this year so he can showcase what he has learned this year. This competition has been very beneficial to him because of the community and the experiences that he had while there last year. John said that one of his favorite aspects of last year’s competition was meeting the other mongers who also came from small, independent shops like him. He has been able to dive into the community and has picked up some of the knowledge that they have. John was also impressed by the showcase of creativity that he saw in the cooking round. One competitor even paired a Pringles chip with their cheese. This opened up John’s eyes to using more common ingredients in his creations.
In looking to next week’s competition, John is hoping that his prior knowledge of the competition and mishaps that he had last year will elevate him to a higher placement. John said that last year he was too ambitious in his cheese creations. This year he wants to focus less on certain ingredients and more on a story and a theme. One of his preassigned cheeses is from Wisconsin so he wants to tell a Wisconsin story in his bite and board. With the drink pairing, John wants to put a southern twist on it so he can tell his story.