Fifty of the best national-selected cheesemongers put into one room to battle it out in a grueling cheese duel spectacle?
Cheese whiz! Although there will be none of that there. This Saturday is the Fourth Annual Cheesemonger Invitational in Long Island City, NY, where the country’s most reputable cheesemongers will compete in numerous Iron Chef-style rounds of cheese and beer/wine knowledge manifestation, including a standardized test, a blind taste test, and a plating of a Perfect Bite creation. The top 10 finalists will move on to demonstrate their knowledge on cheese marketing and advertising, accurate cheese cutting, effective cheese wrapping, and cheese and beer/wine pairings. The winner(s) will receive $1,000 in cash and other excellent prizes. That’s some serious cheddar.
Representing Boston at the Invitational are Mike Hanson and Joe Quintero, two of the cheese and beer/wine aficionados at farm-to-table style shop American Provisions in South Boston.
Both had known about the competition and first seriously considered it last year. “This is the best-organized competition of its sort,” says Quintero “It has, by far, done the best job marketing, organizing, and actually making this a worthwhile challenge … we’re both really happy to be going.”
Quintero came to American Provisions nearly two years ago, after working at Whole Foods, in his quest for a “more old-world cheesemonger position with a new-world style.” Hanson arrived at American Provisions shortly after Quintero, upon looking to reestablish his relationship with cheese, which had been steadily nurtured by a previous girlfriend who worked in the cheese industry. Since then, Hanson and Quintero have proven their passions true and are ready to show the country that they’re serious about cheese.
“We get cheeses here that bigger companies can’t get,” says Quintero. “The farm-to-table aspect of the shop and everyday care of the cheese is something really beautiful that you don’t get to see in many corporate environments.”
After the cheese is produced at the farm and then finished by an affineur, the cheese goes to Quintero and Hanson. “We get the finished product and then it’s our job to take care of it and make sure it’s in the best quality for when someone comes to purchase it. Everyday we unwrap the cheese, clean it, talk to it” Quintero says with a laugh.
“We’re like cheese babysitters.”
Hanson often goes to the farms where the cheese is produced and sees the cows, goats, and sheep that produce the milk, the grass they graze, meets the farmers, observes their production methods and aging caves, and buys the cheese on site.
“I think that connectivity to the cheese, the grass, and the weather really makes us stand out because we’re so close, being in New England,” says Quintero.
In preparation for the Invitational, Quintero and Hanson are trying various combinations of cheese and accompaniments for The Perfect Bite challenge, where each contestant will need to plate 100 cheese-and-complimentary-ingredient bites. Respectfully, Hanson chose not to disclose what their chosen ingredients will be.
“We’re taking a culinary standpoint and really flexing what we can find in our shop and being ambassadors for the culinary scene in Boston,” says Quintero.
If crowned cheesemonger champions, Hanson and Quintero plan to pay off bills and half-joked about buying motorcycles. Ultimately, they hope that being in the contest will “get more people to come in and buy cheese, “ says Hanson.
“We’re not snobby here. We’re just two dudes who eat a lot of cheese.
We want people to realize that you don’t need a special occasion–just come in and snack on some cheese.”
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