Twice a year, the nation's best cheesemongers demonstrate their considerable abilities for a raucous crowd of industry professionals at the Cheesemonger Invitational. The rigorous competition challenges cheesemongers to showcase their sensory abilities, technical skills, encyclopedic (cheese) knowledge and passionate salesmanship.

Congratulations are in order for this year's winner, Eric Schack of from Eataly Downtown! We had some questions for the newly minted CMI winner. 

Ciao Eric, congrats on the big win! You just beat the nation's best cheesemongers, what did that feel like? 
I've never really thought about CMI as a competition between mongers, as it's really a competition with yourself. Every monger there is just trying to better themselves, so they are not your competition, they are your support. For that reason, winning is humbling, as it forces me to reflect on all the incredible mongers who I've been able to work beside.

What was your first introduction to the food/cheese industry?
My introduction into the world of cheese came in 2007, when I took my first job at a cheese counter in Chicago, IL. Clueless to the vast depth of the world of cheese, I quickly found myself in over my head, but also found myself happy to drown there. I was overcome by the scope of cheese as a subject, its value to the cultures that create it, and how much more there was to learn about it. 

What’s the best question you’ve ever been asked behind the counter?
The best question for me, is any question I can’t answer. I love to be stumped behind the counter, that's the best way to learn new things. 

What did you do to prepare for the competition?
Competition preparation starts as soon as the last competition ends. One great thing about CMI is, you receive these fantastic packets after competing, which includes all your scores and criticisms from judges, that can act as a blueprint for self improvement. The best tool to prepare for something like this, is to learn what you need to improve first.

Do you have any industry idols/mentors?
I've had the privilege of working with many fantastic mentors, those who will continue to shape my journey in this industry. Greg Blais has had a huge impact on me. Being lucky enough to work with Greg, and have him as a mentor and friend, has truly shaped my path in this industry. There are few around who have done more for the cheese community than Greg; he is a legend in his own right, and I'm proud to work as part of his legacy.  

To learn more about the Cheesemonger Invitational, click here.