New York loves food. Every week I hear about some event with an unlikely combination of ingredients, and I’m on so many mailing lists by now that I think I could eat and drink my way to a heart attack just on samplers and tastings alone without spending a penny.
Now, New York may love food, and I do too, but the true way to my heart lies in coagulated caesin derivatives — cheese. This past Saturday was then, quite a treat, as a cheesemonger friend (the best kind of friend) kindly got me free entry to The Big Cheesy. Any food event in New York is going to be popular, but anything featuring cheese or bacon – and everything features bacon – is going to sell out quickly, and tickets for this event were snapped up within minutes of going online.
7 cheese shops – well, 6 cheese shops and a misguided entry from a sandwich place – were competing to offer NYC’s best grilled cheese sandwich, and the responsibility of judging their artisinal entries fell to myself and my fellow attendees. Some, including my overall favourite, Lucy’s Whey were confident enough to base their entries simply on a quality cheese with minimal trimmings, but others saw fit to go a bit further.
Above, we have an entry from Say Cheese in which the only cheese was Mascarpone, complemented with a Nutella & chocolate sauce served piping hot from a pipette on a brioche roll. Obviously, this was delicious. After everyone had filled up on cheese and cast their votes, there was still a line to get more of these. But it’s really not a grilled cheese sandwich, and so, couldn’t get my vote.
Other entrants also tried to tempt we judges away from considering the quality of the cheese with more bacon, shallot jam, bacon-crusted brioche, shots of tomato soup and other such novelties, but in the end my favourites were those who kept it simple. Some bread, a couple of light condiments, and beautiful, sticky, gooey cheeses that I feel I can still taste today.
I should have felt bad for the chefs who for two days spent 7 hours in that cheesey, smokey room cooking more than 600 sandwiches in a day, but it was hard to do anything but smile when so many people were clamouring to feed me these treats.
Finally, as mentioned, one entry came not from a cheese shop, but from ‘wichcraft, which has sandwich booths in some large tourist areas of New York. Votes were cast by throwing ping-pong balls into a container on one’s favourite stand. Here, at the end of the show, I might have felt a little bad, as they stood in the corner (bottom left), ignored, with a mere two votes, but when it comes to cheese, my heart is not soft.
The moral of this story then; don’t enter a cheese competition if you’re a sandwich chain. I think we can all learn something from that.