Monday, July 5, 2010

Cheesemonger Competition in NYC

Twice a year the NAFST puts on the Fancy Food Show. In the winter it's held in San Francisco and in the summer, New York. It's three days of aisle after aisle of deliciousness.This was my first time going and I have to tell you, it's a bit overwhelming. Held at the Jacob Javits center every kind of food you could want to try is represented. I tasted all sorts of deliciousness while there. Jam, meat, dry goods, international foods from all over the world, and of course cheese.

But this isn't about walking for miles and miles in a convention center sampling products until I was stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey. It's about the Saturday night before the show and what it is to be a cheesemonger.

Everyone knows that making cheese is hard. So many things can go wrong. Too much salt, not enough, a weird strain of bacteria is somehow introduced, you age your cheese and right before you go to sell it, a pipe bursts. It's a craft that takes perseverance, determination, and a mastery of chemistry that most of us just don't have.

Once the cheese leaves the aging facility/make room or creamery it's given to us to care for, nurture and sell. This past weekend I was able to go to a contest that focused solely on the skills necessary to be a fantastic cheesemonger.

Adam Moskowitz from Larkin-the cheese importer in the 5 boroughs-in NYC came up with the idea to hold a competition. Each monger (there were nine competing) would have to go through a series of challenges. Accurate cutting 1/4#, 1/3# and 1/2# pieces in a timed event; wrapping cheeses of various shapes; pairing cheese and beer; making an advertisement for a retail shop; putting together a cheese plate; and being able to identify milk type and old world vs. new world. In other words, this competition wasn't playing around.

It was a great opportunity to watch my fellow cheese-lovers put their skills up on the block for everyone to see. A lot of other cheese retailers were there, but for me one of the best parts was seeing cheesemakers at the competition. After all we are all connected. Without their lovely products we don't have jobs and without cheesemongers...well, I hate to even think of it.

Congratulations to Matt Rubiner of Rubiner's Cheesemongers & Grocers in Mass. for kicking some butt and being crowned the winner! Watch out though Matt, the ACS is having their second annual cheesemonger competition next month and our very own Cesar will be competing. I smell a challenge brewing.

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