Champion Cheesemonger Emily Acosta

Emily Acosta

Here’s a telling sign about the popularity of cheese in America: cheesemongering has become an Olympic sport. Well, almost. Every summer, the folks who work behind cheese counters gather for The Cheesemonger Invitational. It’s where muscle meets Manchego. For one grueling evening, they compete for the title of champion cheesemonger.

To win, a monger must break down wheels into perfect hunks, prepare a perfect pairing for the judges, and name six mystery bites in a blind tasting — among other challenges. This year’s winner, Emily Acosta, is the first dame to make dairy case history. Here’s what she says about training, guava paste, and the craft cheesemaker who inspires her most…

 

When you were a kid, did you ever think you’d grow up to be a Master Cheesemonger?

Even as an adult, I had no idea I’d grow up to be a Master Cheesemonger! Honestly, when I was a kid I used to think Velveeta was fancy cheese because my mom would only buy it for special occasions.  My family is from Cuba, and somehow Velveeta was quintessentially American, and I guess therefore fancy and modern.  I didn’t have a clue a whole world of cheese existed beyond shredded low moisture mozzarella and Kraft singles.

I’ve loved all things dairy since I can remember, but I discovered my passion for cheese (real cheese!) after taking cheese classes at Whole Foods, the Astor Center, and Murray’s Cheese here in New York.  The more I tasted and learned, the more I needed to taste and learn.  It’s hard to go back once you’ve eaten foods of a certain quality, tradition, and general deliciousness.  Eventually, I realized that I needed to share my passion and newfound knowledge with as many people as possible, so I quit my office job to become a cheesemonger fulltime!

 

How did you come to work at Eataly, one of the greatest cheese counters in New York?!

I had been a monger at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese in New York and left that job to be a bookkeeper.  It became clear pretty quickly that I had made a huge mistake: I missed the cheese and thrill of educating customers about it.  I found my way to Eataly through a friend who worked there as a monger and decided to take the job while finishing my last semester in the Food Studies Master’s Program at NYU.  I’m so grateful I did since I’m still here almost two years later!

 

What kind of training did you undertake to prepare for the Cheesemonger Invitational?

Acosta

I didn’t train too much leading up to the competition.  Given the volume of customers at Eataly, I’ve learned how to cut and wrap cheese very quickly and precisely.  Plus, I’m always reading about cheese and tasting cheese anyway, so I was pretty well prepared.  I did make my coworkers try several iterations of my perfect bite leading up to the competition, which eventually became St. Pete’s Blue cheese on top of a guava pastry with turrón and a fresh slice of Granny Smith Apple.

 

What was your proudest moment of the competition?

I was really proud of how I did on the blind-tasting portion of the competition, perhaps because it was the least familiar of the events in the competition.  I’m used to selling cheese, cutting cheese, answering tough questions about cheese, etc., but tasting a small bit of cheese and identifying whether its pasteurized, where it comes from, what cheese its most similar to – that’s a real challenge!  It’s a testament to how much cheese I actually eat that I was able to do well!

 

What was the most unnerving moment of the competition?

For the final round, we were told to make a cheese sign and be ready to introduce ourselves through the cheese we had selected.  I had very quickly written lyrics to the tune of “Let It Go” about my favorite cheese of the moment, Cinerino, just in case I made it to the final rounds.  I hadn’t really thought about how terrifying it would actually be to sing it in front of a warehouse full of strangers, cheese peers, and cheese idols.  I love to sing and sing behind the counter all day long, but I’m absolutely terrified of singing in front of people I don’t know.  When I realized I had no other plan but to present my a capella cheese song, I almost passed out!

 

Can you describe one or two of your favorite cheese pairings? 

I used guava in my perfect bite because in real life, I eat guava and cheese all the time.  I love tropical fruits with cheese!  I could probably live on guava paste and Comté for the rest of my life.  Or grilled bananas and Comté… or dulce de papaya and Comté…

Outside of the cheese world, what is your super power or hidden talent?

My two passions in life are cheese and Excel spreadsheets.  I love spreadsheets so much. It’s super nerdy.

If there were a Cheesmaker Invitational, is there a craft producer you’d pull into the spotlight?

Jos Vulto of Vulto Creamery makes one of my favorite cheeses, Ouleout.  I recently went up to Walton, NY, to make cheese with him for a day. He’s not only an incredibly talented cheesemaker (Ouleout with slices of apple – amazing) but a beautiful person, too.  It’s an honor to sell his cheeses at Eataly.

Emily Acosta II

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As the winner of this year’s CMI championship, Acosta wins a free trip to England with Cheese Journeys. Big congrats, Emily!

 

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Comments
2 Responses to “Champion Cheesemonger Emily Acosta”
  1. Allison says:

    Such an amazing display of cheese camaraderie! Her Cinerino cheese song won me over!

  2. anna juhl says:

    Great photo, fun interview- she stole the show and our hearts at CMI!
    See you soon, Emily!

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