Twice a year there is a undeniable buzz in the air among the cheese industry; the cows are mooing, the sheep are baaing, goats are maaing. Cheese mongers are sharpening their knives and skills as anticipation grows for the next Cheese Monger Invitational event! What is that you ask?
CMI ( for short ) is a competition where Cheese mongers near and far come together in the name of cheese nobility and glory. Mongers compete in a series of cheese challenges that include an exam, blind taste test, aroma test, technical skills (cutting and wrapping), salesmanship, putting together the perfect pairing, a perfect bite and much MORE! A cross between "(Cheese) Jeopardy", "Top Chef", "America Ninja Warrior" and "America's got (cheese) Talent", ending with the most epic cheese dance party.
This extraordinary event was created and founded by the luminary mind of Adam Moskowitz, president of Larkin Cold Storage and Columbia Cheese. Adam and his family have a long history of importing cheese to America, dating back to the 1940's! HOLEY COW, that is a long time. With Columbia Cheese the focus is finding the best cheese makers that represent traditional cheese making and heritage while also showcasing innovative cheese makers who have broken out of the stereotype of their respective region and making them accessible to us here in America. They emphasize consumer education, adopting the slogan "Maker to Monger", the monger being that connection between customers and the cheese makers. Even with this slogan Adam has paid tribute to the importance of a great monger.
In 2014, CMI headed out west for the first time making San Francisco its winter home. Since then the cheese monger invitational has taken place bi annually with each event coinciding with the Fancy Food Show, heading back every Summer to New York, where it all began.
This June marks the 12th CMI competition and is heading home to Larkin Cold Storage in Queens, NY. It is sure to be a crazy "gouda" time. The last day to sign up for participation is May 15th. Here are My Top 5 Reasons why you should sign up NOW!!!
1.) Mr. Moo
My favorite cow in all the land. He loves "grass", naturally, and cheese. He is unlike any other cow you will meet. A cow with valor, he is a cheese mongers biggest fan. Somany times I'm asked what the heck is a cheese monger? it is easy to feel under appreciated in the culinary world but Mr. Moo LOVES cheese mongers and he will inspire you, cheer for you and guide you through this magical event with Spunk and Spirit. "Moooo, Baaa, Maaa!"
2.) Meet the Maker
Not only will you be able to meet the makers of so many amazing cheeses, you will also be able to ask them questions and chat with them in an intimate setting leading up to the BIG competition. This type of interaction is invaluable for a monger. Mongers are typically broken into small groups (shout out to Table C!) while cheese makers like Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Cellars, Allison Hooper of Vermont Creamery, Affinuer Betty Koster of Fromagerie L'Amuse/Essex Street Cheese Co and of Course the
best of Columbia Cheese, rotate to all the tables to chat about cheese and answer questions. This is some serious "behind the actors studio" type shit for cheese, it's an amazing opportunity to meet the maker.
3.) Meeting other Mongers
As I mentioned before it can be easy to feel underappreciated in the food world and by the general public who are still learning what cheese is all about and what a cheese monger is. So it is an amazing feeling to be in a room filled with people who share the same passion for cheese as you do and know what a cheese monger is and how bad ass you all are! For me, before CMI most of the cheese monger I knew where people I worked with and lived in San Diego. The opportunity to meet mongers from Colorado, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Santa Fe... It is a unique and powerful thing that bonds us together. It's wonderful to celebrate that bond. I'm literally getting goosebumps as I write this.
4.) Fun and Prizes
I'm not even gonna fake the funk! the prizes and swag are pretty damn sweet. It took me a good month or more to work through all the cheese I went home with and that includes giving some it away to friends, co-workers and my favorite baristas. My "Raw Milk Rockstar" cooler bag is by far my favorite cheese swag evAhhh. It has served me well traveling with cheese and it looks bad ass. Everyone is a winner because everyone goes home with something...you got nothing to lose baby!
5.) Challenging Yourself Makes You a Better Monger.
This might be the most important of the reasons you should enter. When you challenge yourself you will grow and leave a better monger than when you arrived. Honestly, the day of competition... It's a whirlwind, it's crazy, there are stressful moments, your gonna be put on the spot, there is gonna be cheese all up in your grill, table, floor, seat. However rising to the occasion, problem solving, figuring that shit out, that's where growth comes from! Oh! you gonna LEARN today. It has been one of the best experiences in my cheese mongering career. I learned so much about myself and had some bumps during the competition that I was able to overcome. I was pretty proud of how it all worked out ( obvi!!!) ;)
I'm gonna share a little story about some set backs I experienced during CMI. During the competition I left a key ingredient for my perfect bite in my hotel room and only realized it during the 15-20 minute break before starting the perfect bite portion of the competition. I had to think quickly. My first attempt to call my aunt who was staying with me in the city didn't work out, I couldn't get a hold of her. I must have called her 7 times. I was like "THINK Jessica, THINK!" I don't have time to go the hotel and come back because the ride to the venue alone was 15 mins in a Lyft. If only Lfty could just bring it to me! DING! (light bulbs going off) why can't they?
I called the concierge and told them I was in the middle of a very important competition and left an ingredient in my room, I'm sending a Lyft to the hotel to pick it up, can you help me?
It was raining outside and I could hear the warnings over the speakers to get back to our stations. As I stood in the rain I nervously watched that little car icon on my phone making its way to my location at Public Works (the venue the competition was held at).
Just as we were starting the perfect bite portion the Lyft driver arrived outside and I was like "OH my CHEESUS!" I profusely thanked the driver and jetted back inside to assemble my bites. During this time inside my head I was like F@!$, Shit, Crap, ughhhh! but after I grabbed the items I was like DAYUMmmmmm, I held it together like a cheese gangster! instead of crying and breaking down... I was like "thundercats are a goooo" and was focused on the task at hand
The Next day I saw the concierge lady who helped me out and I showed her my CMI trophy. It felt like it was a win for all of us, the Lyft driver, the concierge and myself!
Basically what I am trying to say is that If you are a cheese monger, I encourage to participant in the cheese-monger invitational. It is an amazingly positive experience both professionally and personally. You will work hard but you will be rewarded with experience, knowledge and the best damn cheese party EVER during the finals. There will be plenty of cheese samples, drinks, good music, vibrant atmosphere during this celebration of cheese and the people who love it.
If you are interested in competing you can CLICK HERE
If you want to Attend the most EPIC cheese party CLICK HERE