The Newest Cheesemonger Invitational Champion
With 1,400 attendees, the 14th Cheesemonger Invitational (CMI)—held for the first time at the spacious Brooklyn Expo Center on Saturday, June 30—was the biggest and arguably the best event in its nine-year history. “The cheesemonger talent was incredible, and what I’m hearing from guests is that the CMI is all grown up now. It was a really cool upgrade,” said founder Adam Moskowitz, who has hosted the past New York Cheesemonger Invitationals at his Larkin Cold Storage warehouse in Queens.
NYC’s own Eric Schack of Eataly Downtown took home the trophy, after having competed three previous times and placing second in the January CMI in San Francisco. Schack was visibly overcome on stage upon learning he was the winner. “I still feel like at any moment someone’s gonna pinch me and I’ll wake up and it’s a week before CMI again, because I just can’t believe it has happened,” he said.
Schack got his start in cheese in 2007 when he took a job behind the counter at the now-shuttered Fox & Obel in Chicago. He was immediately hooked, and went on to work at several other shops before moving to New York in 2015 to help open Eataly Downtown, where he is currently Assistant Manager of Salumi and Formaggi. He says the store’s unique location, which is both a bustling business district and a popular tourist destination, puts him in contact with a vibrant and diverse array of customers. Interacting with them is one of his favorite aspects of the job.
“There’s something about cheese, in particular, that’s transportive,” Schack explained. “Being able to give somebody a taste of something and see on their face, while you describe where it’s from, that they can just go to that place…it’s almost like a little vacation in someone’s mind. That will probably always be at the top of my cheesemonger loves, connecting with somebody via flavor like that.”
He was joined by 44 other cheesemongers from across the country at the summer CMI, which began with two days of educational activities. During the competition, the mongers were challenged in 10 areas, including creating a perfect bite, beverage pairing, and plate with specific cheeses. Schack excelled across the board, but he was especially pleased with the results of his perfect bite: Kirkham’s Lancashire on a Lancashire gougère base, with Lancashire infused crema, soy candied shiitake mushrooms, jalapeño pickled carrots, and cucumber skin. His vision was to create a balanced bite that pushed forward the strong shiitake mushroom flavor note in the Kirkham’s Lancashire, without overpowering the cheese itself.
Moskowitz described the new victor as “an incredible young man. Eric has put in the hard work necessary to win. He has listened to the critique and judgment of others, and taken it as advice and used it to better himself, and that is reflected in his success. I’m really proud to call Eric the Cheesemonger Invitational champion.”
The next CMI takes place in January 2019 in San Francisco, and Schack encourages any mongers who are unsure about competing to just go for it. “In the long run, it’s not only about the competition; it’s about the people you end up meeting and the relationships you make while you’re there, and what you learn and make better in your own career.” He adds, “The entire experience was a feeling of love and compassion for everyone whom I work within this industry.”