Essex St. Cheese Co.

November 9, 2011, 8:02 pm
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A regular report on geek cheese interests and the learnings by traveling cheesemonger Daphne Zepos.

The Cheesemonger’s Invitational

A cheese moment unlike any other

The Cheesemonger’s Invitational, a party and competition held for the second year at Larkin warehouse in Long Island City, New York, is one of the hippest raves for every cheese nerd. Young cheesemongers travel long distances to be there. The event was sold out at six hundred people and, that evening, there were bouncers, a waiting list and a line down the street.

Ostensibly it’s a competition among cheesemongers (40 cheesemongers competed this year). But I think resounding success of the event has a lot to do with the place and the impresario vaudevillian culture that host Adam Moskowitz brings to it.

The space is visually powerful—a large warehouse lit with mercury strobe lights with docks and huge refrigerated walk-ins. We bathed in its metallic ugliness and because it’s so ugly it was beautiful. The cheesemonger’s platform was made of stacked wooden pallets. The contestants had to know where to put their foot or they would fall through. To me, that seemed like the allegory of the whole place. You couldn’t lay back, you needed to be on your toes. There might be a hi-lo coming through!

Next Adam. During the American Cheese Society Conference I heard people call him the Billy Graham of cheese. While he runs Larkin business by day, for this event he becomes a mad hatter and performs like a rock star host. It’s worth coming just to see him do his thing.

The most incredible cheese combinations
At the center of this pulsating party, like in the eye of the maelstrom, 40 competitors went through the challenges. The final contest, called “Plate the Slate”, was to create a stunning cheese combination. The 10 finalists were given an array of cheeses. They could bring their own bag of goodies, including accompaniments, wine, beer, utensils, whatever. As one of twelve judges who got to try them, I thought they were all great, but three stood out.

Brooke Little from Formaggio Essex in NYC.
Chällerhocker (a Swiss alpine cheese) with salted preserved cockles (berberechos) and fennel pollen. It blew my mind. It’s rare to find a strong, briny combination that doesn’t lose the cheese. The flavors were balanced, surprising and not overwhlemingly fishy. The selection had an element of quickness about it that was great.

Poul Price from Consider Bardwell Farm, Vermont
Deep-fried purple amaranth leaves dotted a tiny piece of Comté and topped with a frond of fennel. It was delicious in part because it was tiny. The flavor was herbaceous and milky. The amaranth leaf was delicate, brittle. Visually lovely, like a purple butterfly wing with a cream spot brushed with bright green.

Steve Jones from Cheese Bar, Portland, Oregon
Little paper cones filled with caramelly-spicy popcorn (I found out later they were Xocolatl De David bacon caramel corn) Emerging from the popcorn cloud was a stick of Comté. It reminded me of a Belgian “frites” cone. It played the creaminess of the Comté against the crunchiness of the popcorn. Steve nailed the visual, too, putting each cone on its own little stand, lining them up in a row. A pop in your mouth, done — winner!

Some links
Cheesemonger’s Invitational
Photos of the event at Culture
Photos of the event at Eater
More on Adam


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