A good cheesemonger can both save the day and make your night with the right recommendation. Proof that some heroes wear aprons instead of capes, cheesemongers are knowledgeable professionals ever eager to match their customer with the right cheese for their tastes or their occasion.
Twice a year, the nation’s most eager cheesemongers gather for the Cheesemonger Invitational (CMI), a rigorous competition that assesses sensory and practical skills, knowledge and creativity.
A few weeks ago, Vermont’s own Rory Stamp of Dedalus Wine Shop in Burlington won the Cheesemonger Invitational in San Francisco. We had a few questions for the recently crowned winner.
Name: Rory Stamp
Also known as: Artisan Food Manager at Dedalus Wine Shop in Burlington, Vermont and winner of the 2018 Cheesemonger Invitational.
Daily grind includes: Waking up my cheese babies from refrigerator-induced sleep, cleaning them thoroughly, and swaddling them in fresh wrap for our customers.
First foray into cheese: Professionally? Training at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese at the University of Vermont. Unprofessionally? Devouring whatever I could get my hands on from my local farmer’s market in Waitsfield, VT and distributing raw milk on my college campus.
Best question you’ve been asked behind the counter?
A: Which cheese would Salvador Dalí serve at a surrealist dinner party?
Q: You beat thirty of the nation’s best cheesemongers at the Cheesemonger Invitational last month! Describe that moment.
A: Shock. Paralysis. Euphoria. Never in my wildest dreams did I think our cheese shop in Burlington, Vermont could compete and win on a national stage. The other cheesemongers are among the most imaginative and passionate people I know–it was a complete surprise. On the other hand, how lucky am I to have the best cheesemakers on the planet in my backyard?
Q: This is your second time competing in at CMI, how did you feel going into the competition this time, versus last?
A: I had to seriously step my game up after the first competition. I worked on my cheese cutting and wrapping skills at the Cellars at Jasper HIll, calibrated my palate with PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) cheeses from our counter at Dedalus, studied The Oxford Companion to Cheese and Dr. Kinstedt’s Cheese and Culture, and binged through a season of The Great British Bakeoff in hopes of making a passable macaron (filled with cheese and Vermont Creamery butter, of course). In spite of this preparation, I was terrified. I may have been quietly confident on the outside, but I can’t say I thought I would win until I was handed the trophy.
Q: You were assigned our Cremont for your “Perfect Bite;” tell us about the inspiration behind your winning “Preserved Yuzu Vesper” cocktail pairing.
A: I love gin with goat cheese: the botanicals of juniper, rose, and cucumber are a perfect foil for the fresh, lactic flavor of soft-ripened goat cheese. Yuzu were in season during my planning, and I became enamored with the idea of something sweet, salty, floral, and acidic to complement the cheese. The Vesper is quite a stiff drink, however, and needed a chaser to cut through the richness of Cremont’s added cream and cow’s milk. Ask me what I’m drinking on any day of the week and it’s likely pink bubbles, hence the sparkling rosé “bubbleback” for my perfect pairing.
Q: Valentine’s Day is coming up. If I walked into Dedalus in search of the perfect Vermont Creamery cheese pairing, what would you recommend?
A: Bonne Bouche and Brut Rosé Champagne. You’d be hard pressed to find a sexier pairing than the silky decadence of a ripe Bonne Bouche with a creamy Champagne of Pinot Noir. Add some caviar or trout roe to the mix and you’re winning Valentine’s day–with or without your date.
To learn more about The Cheesemonger Invitational, click here. For pairing inspiration and cheeseboard how-to's, click here.