Food & Drink: Cheese Olympics

Local cheesemongers to be honored

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‘Perfect bites’ are part of the upcoming Cheesemonger Invitational, a celebration of cheesemakers from far and wide. Photo by Ellen Cronin.

Cheese is having a moment. In recent years, mixologists, butchers and beekeepers have received widespread recognition for their artisanal craftsmanship—but this level of acknowledgment and appreciation has been a long time coming for cheesemongers. The pros are revered in Europe for their acumen—but only recently has the American public started to realize just what it takes to work behind a cheese counter.

The Cheesemonger Invitational, also referred to as the Olympics of Cheese, is scheduled to take place on Sunday, January 21 in San Francisco and will leave no doubt that there is much more to cheese than simply whether it’s made from cow, sheep or goat milk.

“There is so much education in this work,” says Hilary Green, who is employed at Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station and will be competing. Green joins more than 30 mongers from as far away as Florida, New York and Louisiana.

Now in its eighth year (fifth in San Francisco), the 48-hour competition requires contestants to embark on a cheese decathlon that includes tasting, cutting, wrapping, sales and perfect pairings. The initial portion of the event takes place behind closed doors, and on Sunday only six remaining contestants vie for the winning title. The top 10 finishers are awarded prizes.

“The only way we can get the cheese out to consumers is by supporting the cheesemakers,” says Vanessa Tilaka, who works at Fisher’s Cheese & Wine in the Marin Country Mart, and will be competing in the invitational for the first time.

Attendees at the competition will be treated to contestants’ perfect-bite creations, cutting and wrapping demonstrations and the opportunity to taste delicious samples of some of the country’s finest cheeses.

The Cheesemonger Invitational, Sunday, Jan. 21, 5pm-10pm; Public Works, 161 Erie St., San Francisco; 21 and over; $60; cheesemongerinvitational.com.

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