Held twice a year around the Specialty Food Association’s Fancy Food Shows in San Francisco in January and New York City in June, and a recently added Chicago competition in April, the Cheesemonger Invitational has become an iconic competition to separate the best from the best cheesemongers from across the country.
Cheese insiders know Adam Moskowitz. Maybe they do business with Larkin or Columbia Cheese, as most cheese sellers do regularly. Maybe they’ve watched Moskowitz on stage at The Cheesemonger Invitational (CMI), rocking his cow costume and belting out cheese raps. Moskowitz and his businesses deeply impact most territories in the sprawling land of cheese.
Recently, Moskowitz took me on a tour of Larkin, his 40,000 square foot warehouse in Long Island City, Queens. Larkin has 27,000 square feet of cold storage — that day, there were eight truckloads of pickles alone. But mostly, the terrain is vast quantities of cheese, wheels and boxes marked for Pasadena, Denver, Boston and beyond. Many warehouses are caked in grime, but the floors at Larkin glisten. Outside, trucks spill onto the street.
The landscape of food and beverage pairing is littered with adages meant to make things easier: “What grows together goes together.” Or, “Likes with likes” and “Opposites attract.” Though I’ve spent the last 15 years immersed in the cheese world, even I get nervous when it comes to proper pairing. Good cheese is expensive. What if I mess it up?
I decided to pick the brains of some of the most accomplished cheese pairers I know. These are folks who have taken top honors at the biannual Cheesemonger Invitational, which includes the final preliminary challenge “Perfect Bite.” Judged on presentation, originality and taste, each competitor is assigned a cheese and given an hour to prepare 100 bite-size compositions. What did top mongers have to say about pairing? Here are the four big takeaways: