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The 2011 Cheesemonger Invitational: War of the Mongers

[Photos: Aaron Estes/]

From far and wide they came to conquer: Larkin Cold-Storage was the field of battle once again for the 2nd annual Cheesemonger Invitational. Cheese heads, cheese freaks and cheese lovers from all across the world came to witness the legendary skills that a cheesemonger must possess in order to succeed. As stated famously in the movie classic The Highlander, "There can be only one?"

Forty cheesemongers from around the world (as far away as Australia) came to test their skills against each other in four separate skills competitions:

· Introduction – Tell us a bit about yourself. Name, shop, favorite cheese and why. Connecting with the people. That’s the name of the game.
· Taste Test – Think you can blindly taste a cheese and discern its milk type, country of origin, raw vs. pasteurized, age, category and name? If so, then you might be a cheesemonger.
· Cut and Wrap - Each monger is provided a quarter to half wheel (various styles, shapes and sizes), two standard sheets of cheese paper and two labels. Cut the cheese into two quarter-pound wedges (points are given for accuracy), and then wrap perfectly. No tape please? You get one label per piece. Need more than one label to hold it together? FAIL.
· Plate the Slate – Any monger worth their salt can put together a perfect plate (or Brooklyn Slate in this case) worthy to be shellacked and placed in a museum for all to view, admire ,and worship. Each monger was allowed up to two personal and secret ingredients of their own to incorporate.

The ringmaster, Adam Moskowitz, walked amongst the crowd and contestants, riling the crowd into a frenzy while the DJ provided the beats and electronic soundtrack for the evening. Behind the stage, a huge screen was erected to allow viewing for the masses.

As the mongers prepared, the approximately 600 spectators (lots of cheese love there) drank beer from Six Point brewery and feasted on a spread prepared by chef fromager Tia Keenan. The tables and cheesescapes she created were an assault on all the senses as the lines to taste and gorge wrapped around the arena.

After three levels of competition with eliminations, it came down to ten final warriors and the crucial plating round. Although they were all worthy, one plate reigned supreme. Steve Jones from The Cheese Bar in Portland, Oregon would not be denied.

He wooed the crowd with his introduction, tasted the other competitors' defeat in the blind tasting, cut and wrapped to near perfection (cutting wedges at .25 and .26 respectively), and captured the flag with his brilliant plating involving Huban cheese (Austrian semi-soft) and his secret ingredient?bacon-caramel popcorn. Game, set, match.

The other contestants graciously cheered and offered their congratulations, but I saw the look in their eyes. Steve may have won the battle, but they will live to fight another day. Revenge (unlike cheese) is a dish best served cold.

—Aaron Estes is the cheese editor for the New York Cork Report and writes Cave-Aged Blog.

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