A blind smell test by CMI participants. 

The back to school essay, “What you did this summer” was always a bear to tackle.   To me, the hardest part was connecting summer events to a cohesive storyline while paring down the lesser (albeit exciting) things. That perennial writing assignment was mixed bag of excitement to tell a story while simultaneously being overwhelmed with how to tell it.  Candidly, it’s kind of like now as I try to relay the three days of Cheesemonger Invitational, “CMI”. Conceivably, three days should be easy to surmise. Cheese. Lots and lots of cheese right?

Seriously though, cheese is a way of life for all of the folks at CMI. The event is designed to share knowledge and elevate an understanding of cheese. From makers, affineurs to buyers to distributors to mongers - cheese, in so many facets, was the central to what united us. In interactive lectures and roundtable discussions with some of the world’s best in class operators it became abundantly clear that there’s an endless amount to learn.  This may have been one of the few times that I have eagerly looked forward to days of classroom discussions and learnings. Neatest part was as we shared knowledge we realized our individual strengths. Then there was the CMI test itself.

Described akin to sommelier test for cheese, the actual CMI contest was held on the third day. Written, aroma, practical and production tests faced each of the 45 CMI competitors.  For me, it was a journey years in the making. A journey that shattered fears, eliminated biases and brought me close to a collection of friends that, heretofore I had not known.

Longtime column readers may remember my 2015 CMI piece in which I was thinking about participating.  If you are counting - that’s three years to gain the courage to try. Understand that locally the bar is set high. Sara Adduci of Feast in Charlottesville is a CMI winner. So to is former Flora (Charlottesville) owner Nadjeeb Chouaf.   If they could, why not me I reasoned? Both of them were encouraging in my run and advised me that “it’s the hardest and best thing that you will ever do.” It was.

Nobody wins CMI their first time out and my experience was no different.  The test is designed to make you better. Consider that this year’s winner, Eric Schack, Eataly won on his third time out building on the cumulative feedback from judges.  To me, what’s unique about CMI is the feedback from top industry peers. Feedback meant to guide your development . Where I own my failures, I may frame the positive comments about my cheese pairing. The lesser marks are skills to work on. After all there are two, (possibly three?) CMI events in 2019 and I want to see all of these amazing cheese people again.  Clearly once is not enough to take all the cheese goodness in.



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