Eastern cheesemongers swept the top spots in the Cheesemonger Invitational last year, but four West Coasters are hoping to notch a win in the contest's second annual edition--including two cheesemongers from Seattle.
Described as a cheese nerd's party and dairy-themed rave, the New York City competition tests a cheesemonger's stage presence, cheese know-how, and cutting ability. The sold-out event, scheduled for Friday night, has swelled from nine competitors in 2010 to a field of 40 cheesemongers from around the world.
"We're there because we all love cheese," Wahlund says. "You can't be too uptight about it, because it's all in fun."
Still, Wahlund admits he'd like to win. He hasn't been practicing, but says the competition "comprises things you do every day at the counter."
The contest is divided into four heats, the first three of which serve as elimination rounds. Competitors first will be asked to introduce themselves and state their favorite cheese. Cheesemongers who pass the social-interaction test will then be subjected to a five-minute taste test, during which they must identify the milk type, country of origin, category, name, and age of six cheeses.
For the third heat, contestants must slice two perfect one-quarter pound wedges of cheese without the aid of a scale. "After cut, you will weight, wrap, and write your name on label," the rules explain. "Wrap will be judged on neatness and legibility of hand writing."
The final heat, nicknamed "plate the slate," requires competitors to build a perfect cheese plate around a mystery cheese. According to the official instructions, "mongers are to bring a bag of 'tricks' for pairing."
"There's no pleasing everyone," Wahlund concedes.
Wahlund, a former actor, has been a cheesemonger at DeLaurenti's for seven years.
"I found the food I love more than anything," he says.