Say Cheese

Charlottesville cheesemongers take home top honors in national competition. 

Sara Adduci 

Photo by Kristin Finn

How well do you know your cheese? Sure, most of us can probably pick cheddar, gouda and brie out of a crowd, but what if you were asked to close your eyes and identify 20 different cheeses by smell alone? At the Summer 2016 Cheesemonger Invitational in Long Island, New York, last month, that’s exactly what two Charlottesville cheesemongers did—and clearly they did it well. After going up against 50-some other cheesemongers in a series of competitive events, Nadjeeb Chouaf, 30, of Flora Artisanal Cheese at Timbercreek Market and Sara Adduci, 46, of Feast! brought home the gold and bronze, respectively.

Chouaf, who’s been working with cheese for about five years, describes the annual invitational as akin to “the first day of summer camp” for cheesemongers, and an opportunity to catch up with old friends.

“My favorite part is really being in a room with so many like-minded people,” agrees Adduci, who worked in restaurants for years before switching her focus to cheese in 2001. “It’s like a cheese nerd family reunion. It’s fantastic.” 

The aroma identification portion of the competition (Chouaf’s favorite) was new this year, and other events included an on-the-spot pairing, a blind taste test, speed-wrapping and a written exam. Contestants also had the opportunity to get up on stage and tell the judges about themselves and their favorite cheeses, then display their prowess at typical cheesemonger tasks like slicing cheese to an exact weight without a scale.

And when they weren’t sniffing, slicing, wrapping and arranging, the competitors had the chance to sit in on all-things-cheese roundtable discussions with experts from across the globe.

Winners not only get bragging rights until next year’s invitational, but each of the top 10 will attend an all-expenses-paid trip to a cheese destination. Adduci will visit Vermont Creamery and Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont, and Chouaf will spend a week interning at Neal’s Yard Dairy, an artisanal cheese retailer in London.   

As for the odds of two winners coming from the same small city, Chouaf says it’s no coincidence.

“It just really says something about the food community here in Charlottesville, that there are people who are so committed to learning about cheese because they know that customers want that,” he says. “The market is asking for that, so we’ve stepped out pretty big to share it with the community.”

Nadjeeb Chouaf 

Photo by John Borgquist

It’s All Gouda 

Leave it to the experts and allow a local cheesemonger at a specialty cheese shop to slice and wrap the perfect cheese just for you. Here are some of our favorites around the state:

Basic Necessities, Nellysford, 

Cheesetique, Alexandria, Arlington, 

Feast!, Charlottesville,  

Flora Artisanal Cheese at Timbercreek Market, Charlottesville,

J. Emerson, Inc. Fine Wines & Cheese, Richmond,

The Cheese Shop, Williamsburg,

Tinnell’s Finer Foods, Roanoke,

Tinto Wine & Cheese, etc., Virginia Beach,

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