I admit it, I was surprised by the huge turn-out for last Saturday’s cheese cook-off. As much as I love cheese, the thought of preparing 200 stringy bites for strangers didn’t turn me on, so I went to the Philadelphia Cheese Experiment as a spectator, as a sniffer outer and spy. There were 16 contestants – all amateur chefs – and within an hour, the venue was jammed.
“We’re trying to create a curated food party,” Nick Suarez, one of the organizers, told me. Nick comes with a row of cook-off trophies to his name; he won “Best Dog in Show” at the 2009 Great Hotdog Cookoff and went on to drop his day job at Wine Spectator to become a professional organizer. Of cook-offs.
“In Brooklyn, there’s a whole cook-off community,” he told me, appraising the Philadelphia crowd with a smile. “I always say winning is fifty percent logistics and fifty percent seasoning.”
Word. The best nosh I tried was a subtle but surprising bacon-goat-cheese-ball dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in graham crackers. The Smorgasm. It didn’t win any prizes, but it was a great example of balance and invention: faintly salty and tangy with contrasting textures. Hats off to Dave Glowka and Baylen Linnekin (below) for that.
I’ve posted more shots below but first, here are a couple more opportunities for cheese and camaraderie:
Meet the Cheesemaker, Friday, June 17, 4-6 p.m.
A State-wide Happy Hour
Cheesemakers across the state will throw open their barn doors for tours and tastings on Friday, June 17. A map of the farms can be found here. Participating cheesemakers include Birchrun Hills Farm, Yellow Springs Farm, Doe Run Farm, Stoudt’s Wonderful Good Market, Dove Song Dairy, Calkins Creamery, Dean Farms, Keswick Creamery, Clover Creek Cheese Cellar and Pipe Dreams Fromage. Note: I'll be hanging out with Sue Miller at Birchrun Hills Farm, then attending her tasting (see below).
Local Cheese+Local Beer Tasting, June 17, 6:30-8
A Night at Birchrun Hills Farm
Enjoy pairings of six local cheeses and beers at Birchrun Hills Farm in Chester County. Birchrun is home to Sue Miller, one of the area's premier raw-milk cheesemakers (Red Cat, Birchrun Blue). We'll taste her cheeses along with libations from Tired Hands Brewery, Victory, and Sly Fox. Sue Miller and Paul Lawler host (along with yours truly). Tickets are $25. To reserve a seat, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Sue Miller at 610-827-1603.
Fair Food Farm Tour, June 26, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
A Field Trip to Two Cheesemakers
Hop in a van with Paul Lawler of the Fair Food Farmstand and drive out to bucolic Chester County to visit two star cheesemakers, Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills and Kristian Holbrook of Doe Run Dairy. Holbrook makes that luscious Hummingbird robiola I wrote about last month. This day-long tour includes transportation and lunch for $40. Reading Terminal Market is the pick-up and drop-off point. Tickets are available at eventbrite.