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The Cheesemonger Invitational: Cheese Nerds Like to Party

[Photos: Tia Keenan]

The hoi-polloi of the cheese world [Ed. note: such a thing does exist!] gathered in Long Island City Saturday night for the first annual Cheesemoger Invitational, held at the largest specialty-cheese warehouse in the US. With cheeseheads from around the country in town for this weekend's Fancy Food Show, the curd flowed as the country's most prominent cheesemongers competed in a series of challenges including blind-tasting cheeses, portioning cheeses to order, and cheese and beer pairing.

The star-studded judging panel included representatives from Great Britains's Neals Yard Dairy and California's Cowgirl Creamery. The air was thick with the perfume of ripe Munster and even riper mongers as France's Master Fromager Rodolphe Le Meunier fed the crowd a Versailles-worthy spread of cheeses and accoutrement. The movers and shakers of the specialty cheese biz and the cheese-fanatics who love them basked in the frenetic energy of the American cheese community's version of the (special?) Olympics.

Crowd favorites and hometown heroes Michael Anderson of Murray's Cheese and Chris Hanawalt of Brooklyn's Bedford Cheese Shop labored over their monger ministrations. At one point the crowd chanted "USA! USA!" (which seemed misguided if only for the fact that ALL the competitors were American) while European cheese big-wigs wandered amongst the crowd bemused, muttering "only in America" as the rowdy audience hooted and hollered. It was a milky hootenanny for sure, with plenty of wacky cheese-themed t-shirts and a drunken monger or two (hundred).

Matt "Curd Crusher" Rubiner of Rubiner's Cheesemongers & Grocers in Great Barrington, MA. was declared the victor, and took home the $500 grand prize and the right to call the other cheesemongers "stinky biyatches." Murray's Cheese cave manager Michael "Caveman" Anderson placed a respectable second place and Carlos "The Michigan Machine" Souffrant of Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor took third. As part of the awards ceremony, Le Meunier read an elaborate love poem to cheese (in French!) and then everyone left, drunker and fatter than they arrived. USA! USA!

—Tia Keenan