If Mike Bloomberg were to call me tomorrow morning and tell me my services were no longer required, I’d hardly bother to hang up the phone before marching into the nearest cheese shop looking to resume my old fall-back job as a cheesemonger.  Working first for a great small, independent shop and later for Whole Foods, I’ve gained a serious respect for the work that goes into every aspect of producing and bringing to market real cheese, and this is why I went just a bit nuts when I was offered the chance to report in on the Third Annual Cheesemonger Invitational.  Located in a hard-to-find warehouse in LIC, It’s an all-night party in the name of real dairy, centered around a competition that puts the spotlight on the people who make up the industry’s most public face.

I’m not going to go too deeply into the specifics of the competition itself (though I encourage you to look into it on their website) because my overall impression of the event was that it was, despite the name and centerpiece stagecraft, more than anything a (damn good) excuse for the incredibly hard-working, big-ego-driven industry to throw a very self-conscious party.  My favorite moment of the night came when the host had to break down the wall and comment on how amazing (and a bit absurd) it was that we were all paying and cheering for the folks on stage to do what they do behind counters every day to little, if any, fanfare.  This was a chance for each store to let their weirdest staffer off their chain and play it up for a sympathetic crowd.

Surrounding the main stage was a comical amount of cheese, ranging from a 20-foot trough that reveals the true inadequacy of the term “swiss cheese” as Americans at the supermarket use it to individual tables where specific distributors laid out their best.  I felt like I was visiting with old friends as I followed slices of Colston Bassett Stilton with gobs of runny Winnimere, scraped close to the bark strap to catch that faint hit of spruce.  Companies representing cheese accompaniments largely and wisely chose to cook up combinations of cheese and their own product, leading to grilled cheese sandwiches, relish, okra, and cheese topped chips, and the indescribably addicting mixture of bavarian blue cheese and vanilla ice cream served with flatbread “spoons” that was getting press even before the event.  The volume of food and drink on hand led me to remark early on that things would get weird before the night was out, and I wasn’t wrong: at some point an enthusiastic spectator hopped up on stage for reasons still unclear to me, and by the time we beat our retreat the event had devolved into the party it was destined to.  I’m pretty sure that on my way out the door I saw some amazingly large wedges disappearing into handbags.

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