Cheesemonger Invitational Participants Tell All
This Friday, July 8th, is the day we’ve been waiting for: the Second Annual Cheesemonger Invitational. On this fateful Friday, 40 cheesemongers from all over the world will convene in New York to compete against each other in a warehouse packed with rabid fans, cheese and beer. Four challenges will be judged by ten esteemed industry professionals, and the winner(s) will walk with cash prizes and untouchable street cred.
Here at culture we were curious to see how the future competitors were feeling this week, so we interviewed several participants. Here's what they have to say:
Top l-r: Alexander Kast, A Southern Season, NC; Matt Rubiner, Rubiner's Cheesemongers, MA; Doralice Handal, The Cheese Shop of Healdsburg, CA; Shane Wahlund, Delaurenti, WA;Bottom l-r: Ezekial Ferguson, Di Bruno Bros., PA; Jana Werner, The Pasta Shop, CA; Anne Saxelby, Saxelby Cheese, NY; Tim Gaddis, Star Provisions, GA.
Culture: On a scale of 1-10 how nervous are you?
Anne Saxelby, of Saxelby Cheese, New York: Nine.
Tim Gaddis, of Star Provisions, Georgia: Four/Five. There are some great mongers involved and I am more excited about learning from them than trying to beat them.
Shane Wahlund, of Delaurenti, Washington: I think five sounds good.
Zeke Ferguson, of Di Bruno Bros., Pennsylvania: Two. at the end of the day, I am just doing what I do everyday…but I couldn't stand to lose to any of these guys and gals!
Jana Werner, of The Pasta Shop, California: Nervous? One. Excited? Ten. I'm sure I'll be more nervous by the night of the competition, but right now I'm just stoked that I get to go to NY and hang out in a warehouse full of cheese nerds!
Culture: Do you have an arch-nemesis within the group of your fellow competitors?
Doralice Handal, of the Cheese Shop of Healdsburg: I do, but I cannot reveal who it is.
Tim Gaddis: No, not really. Seamus from Sheridan's and I keep an interesting banter going on twitter, but it's all in fun.
Alexander Kast, of A Southern Season, North Carolina: There was rumor that my old boss, Charlotte Kamin, from the Bedford Cheese Shop would be participating. I would never call her my nemesis (cheese folk tend to be a pretty loving bunch), but she can be a tough cookie. I do look forward to competing against Ms. Saxelby. She's the sleeper in the tournament.
Jana Werner: Shane Wahlund from Delaurenti is my former boss and we won the American Cheese Society competition together last year. I love the guy and I want him to do really well (and place right behind me!).
Culture: How many hours of practice have you put in?
Matt Rubiner, of Rubiner's Cheesemongers, Massachusetts (reigning champ): 52,560, give or take.
Anne Saxelby: Whenever I'm at the shop I'm eyeing those quarter-pound pieces on the scale... I've logged hundreds of hours over the past few months!!
Alexander Kast: We all do this everyday, need we practice more? If it's your passion, practice isn't necessary.
Shane Wahlund: Countless hours while wearing a backpack full of bricks.
Zeke Ferguson: 78,840 and counting. That's right, I even practice when I'm sleeping.
Culture: What do you believe is the strongest skill you bring to the Cheesemonger Invitational challenges?
Doralice Handal: Comedic security.
Jana Werner: I think that being in close proximity to the mad cheese skills in the room will bring out my raw talent... and my wrapping is "hella tight."
Anne Saxelby: I can write a mean cheese description!
Alexander Kast: I'm a pretty balanced monger. I think my plating is pretty outstanding and I am pretty stellar at measuring quarter-pound pieces by hand.
Shane Wahlund: Not really a skill, per se, but there's tiger blood in my veins.
Culture: What skill do you believe is your weakest in regards to this event, and how do you plan to make it work?
Tim Gaddis: Speed. My plan is to stay calm and be precise.
Alexander Kast: I wouldn't say I have a weakest skill.
Shane Wahlund: I have fallen arches but I believe I finally found the proper Dr. Scholl's insert.
Matt Rubiner: Penmanship. I don't plan to make it work. How can I change 45-odd years of crappy handwriting.
Zeke Ferguson: I could say plating, as I don't do it as often as some of my competitors, but I'll make it work by shaving the two-pound white Alba truffle I'm bringing over my cheese.
Culture: Have you considered a strategy? If so, can you give us any info about it?
Zeke Ferguson: Just operate at my absolute peak (fingers crossed, hoping they don't test for equine steroids).
Anne Saxelby: Shock and awe? No, just kidding. I think I'm just going to try to have fun.
Doralice Handal: I can only say that if it weren't for the kind words of my favorite bartender I would be lost.
Jana Werner: My pairing element is mind-blowing. I have faith that the cheeses will do the rest.
Tim Gaddis: Do everything better than the next guy?!?!
Culture: How threatened do you feel by last year's champion, Matt Rubiner?
Shane Wahlund: Thus far he has not directly threatened me.
Jana Werner: I heard he sent out some finger breaking thugs, but they haven't made it to the part of Oakland I live in yet.
Zeke Ferguson: As far as I know he is like the Yoda of cheese. It was an honor to lose to him last year, but it will be a much greater honor to beat him.
Anne Saxelby: He's a pretty seasoned monger, so there's a lot to be intimidated by... luckily, he's also a really nice guy, so I'm not too scared of him.
Doralice Handal: He scares the s* out of me.
Tim Gaddis: He is a formidable opponent. I have been reviewing tapes of last year’s event.
Alexander Kast: None, he competed against eight people last year. This year we have 40. I think he should be the one who's threatened. Got to protect that throne!
Culture: What will be your pre-competition meal?
Alexander Kast: I will probably eat some fruits and veggies and drink a lot of water.
Doralice Handal: A stiff horse's neck.
Anne Saxelby: Spinach? It worked for Popeye...
Matt Rubiner: Beer.
Zeke Ferguson: Many six point craft beers, and much cheese, Adam said he didn't have a BBQ pit large enough to accommodate the steer I wanted to bring so I'll settle.
Tim Gaddis: Pizza from Lombardi's
Culture: (To Matt Rubiner) As reigning champion, how threatened do you feel by the new competition?
Matt Rubiner: It's not the new competition that concerns me so much. It's the old.