Cheese is serious business — so serious, in fact, that only a select few mongers have the hardened rind to compete in the Cheesemonger Invitational. The event, which Eater dubs "the Olympics of Cheese," celebrates its 10th anniversary this week with a competition at Mondial du Fromage in the Loire Valley. In the article, Eater writer Jaya Saxena explains the grueling challenges faced by only the cheesiest humans:
The competition is open to both candidates who have won national competitions (two per country plus one alternate) and those from countries without cheesemonger competitions, the latter of whom must submit extra proof of their expertise with their applications. Then, the competition itself consists of nine tests. There's a blindfolded taste test where competitors must identify not just the cheese names but also details like their countries of origin and maturing times. There's a test to see how accurately they can cut cheese. And there are also more creative categories, like making a plate that must include a cheese of Mondial's choosing, and creating artistic cheese platters and sculptures.
Johnson says the blind taste test is the most intimidating. "They cut the rinds off the cheese and don't put them in an order that would make sense for normal tasting, so you might get a stronger cheese first that will cloud your palate," she says. She's focusing her energy on getting her pairings right and making sure she has her timing down. Rollins has been studying cheese facts and spending all day cutting cheese at work. And they both have met over Zoom with a team of industry professionals — Moskowitz, Lilith Spencer of Jasper Hill Farm, and cheesemonger Alex Armstrong, the team alternate — to help further tweak their visions. "We had a Zoom call this week, and I was like, 'This is what I'm doing for this one test.' And everybody was like, 'No, that's too much. Don't do that,'" Johnson says. "I absorb all of that input and aggregate that into whatever comes out. I'm always learning and trying to refine things."
Perhaps the test that best encapsulates just what it is a cheesemonger does is the five-minute presentation contestants must give on a cheese of their choice. Essentially, they're recreating the cheese-buying experience for judges — demonstrating their expertise, but also their enthusiasm for a cheese they believe is special.
If you're interested, the events are streaming on YouTube.
Training for the Olympics of Cheese [Jaya Saxena / Eater]