Meet the winners of the Summer 2016 Cheesemonger Invitational Competition

By Robin Jay



No matter your preferred nomenclature – fromager, cheese steward, cheese purveyor – a cheesemonger is to fine cheese what a sommelier is to fine wine. Without cheesemongers, “cheese would die a lonely, sad death,” said the host of the 2016 Summer Cheesemonger Invitational championships in New York City.  “They are caretakers, truth tellers and therapists for the cheese. They are knights, priests and politicians for the cheese. And when cheesemongers do their jobs well, a cheese lives its final days with nobility, honor and respect.”

Last June, dozens of cheesemongers flocked to the Big Apple for the Wrestlemania of cheese championships. Judges selected winning mongers based on practical skills and knowledge of the science and history behind fine cheese. Now, without further adieu,
I introduce you to this year’s Summer 2016 Cheesemonger Invitational Winners…

1st Place: Nadjeeb Chouaf of  Flora Artisanal Cheese at Timbercreek Market
Nadjeeb-with-goatsAn American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional, Nadjeeb opened Flora Artisanal Cheese in 2013 – Charlottesville’s first cut-to-order cheese shop. His focus is educating the public on all aspects of cheese pairing and presentation. “Cheese was this mysterious food that few people knew very much about – and I wanted to be that person – a cheesemonger,” said Nadjeeb. “It is such an honor to be named the winner of the 2016 Cheesemonger Invitational and to see my passion for cheese come full circle.”
722 Preston Avenue, Charlottesville, VA 22903 •, (434) 202-8052

sascha-anderson2nd Place: Sascha Anderson of Cheesemongers of Santa Fe
Every interaction with customers at Cheesemongers of Santa Fe is a pungent opportunity to share the love of cheese as a treasured part of our collective culinary and cultural fabric. “Like most cheesemongers in this country, I fell into the profession sideways. I studied literary criticism and thought I would be a writer, but fell in love with the interdisciplinary nature of cheese. Inside of a cheese case, I found lessons on geography, politics, history, economics, anthropology, chemistry, microbiology, and more. Being a cheesemonger allows me to tell stories of how just four ingredients – milk, salt, cultures, and rennet – combine to form the myriad cheeses we know, love, and have yet to discover,” said Sascha. 130 East March Street, Santa Fe, NM 87501 •, (505) 795-7878

3rd Place: Sara Adduci of Feast!
kristenfinn_sara_feast_001-2“I am really proud of the cheese selection I curate at Feast! I also happen to be the buyer for the shop. This is my favorite part! What fun to find all the most delicious cheeses the world has to offer,” said Sara. “All we do as cheesemongers is eat, sleep and breathe cheese. We carry local Virginia cheeses, as well as wonderful offerings from around the U.S., Italy, France, Spain, England, Croatia, Portugal, you name it! There is an amazing diversity of flavor, texture, and style, so there is truly something for everyone in the case.” 416 W Main St, Ste H, Charlottesville, VA 22903 •, (434) 244-7800

4th Place: Samantha Kane of Di Bruno Bros.
Samantha-Kane-Di-Bruno-Bros“My first cheese mentor said, ‘Our job is to find a quality product, take care of it as if it were our own, and then find it a home with someone who will feel the same way,’”  said Samantha. “I cooked professionally for eight years and was looking for another outlet to fulfill my deep passion of working with food. I spent time at a Pennsylvania Dutch Country farm working with specialty produce. Cheese was always part of my portfolio, so when I learned Di Bruno Bros. was expanding their cheesemonger fleet, I applied immediately!” No doubt Samantha’s CMI award confirms she made the right choice! 930 S. 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147 •, (215) 922-2876

5th Place: Jordan Edwards of Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine
jordan-edwards-“The ability to put a human face – the farmers and cheesemakers – behind what you eat is one of the more compelling aspects of the artisan cheese industry,” said Jordan Edwards, Head Cheesemonger at Pastoral. “The monger becomes the torchbearer for the cheesemakers to convey the narrative to the consumer. Since the CMI was really tight this year, I was pleased to make top five, but in all honesty, I want to keep competing for the number-one spot. After all, no one remembers who came in 5th in the Olympics.”  2945 N Broadway St, Chicago, IL 60657 •, (773) 472-4781


6th Place: Alice Bergen Phillips of Via Umbria
Alice-Bergen-Phillips“I spent lots of time at my grandparents farm in northern England, learning to milk goats, gather eggs, pick berries, and I helped my grandmother – who trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris – prepare meals. I was lucky to eventually travel further afield, eating (and studying) my way across Europe,” Alice said. “My customers look at me like I’m insane when I say this, but sweet pickle and cheese is one of my all-time favorite combinations. At Via Umbria, I match Gordy’s Pickles Sweet Chips with Vermont Shepherd’s Invierno, a salty, tangy sheep and cow’s milk cheese. The combination is absurdly good!”
1525 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20007 •, (202) 333-3904