Being crowned the nation’s best cheesemonger was one thing. Now, Charlottesville’s Nadjeeb Chouaf has been named one of the world’s best. Yesterday in Paris, the founder of Flora Artisanal Cheese finished third overall in the Mondial du Fromage world cheesemonger competition, the best result ever for an American.
Just to qualify for the event was an honor. Chouaf earned a spot by winning the U.S. Cheesemonger Invitational last year, giving him a chance to compete against the world’s best in two grueling days of competition. Saturday, each contestant received 150 euros and two hours to spend at the world-famous Les Halles de Tours market to buy ingredients for Sunday’s events. Then on Sunday, beginning at 8 am, contestants faced nearly ten straight hours of tests. In the morning, there was a theory exam, blind tasting, and a five-minute presentation of a cheese to the panel of cheese expert judges.
In the afternoon, first competitors had to assemble a cheese plate from five cheeses revealed to them by the panel. Next came “perfect bite,” where each competitor was challenged to create the best morsel of food from the same cheese, fourme d’Ambert. Chouaf’s was a ball of fourme rolled in peanut nougatine in a Chinese soup spoon of peanut oil jam and reduced raspberry vinegar, topped with a tiny bit of raspberry jam.
Next was “cheese dish,” where contestants again were challenged to create the best dish from the same cheese: brie fermier. Chouaf made a frisée salad with cider vinegar and hard boiled egg with the yolk removed and replaced with a mixture of duxelles, riced egg yolk and brie, topped with ramp powder and lardons. Chouaf credits Timbercreek Market chefs Tucker Yoder and Shelby Park with inspiring the development of his bite and dish.
Next, contestants had to create a themed cheese display on a one meter square board, using 50 kilo of cheese determined by the panel. This year’s theme: The Alchemy of Cheesemongering.
Finally, contestants had to create a cheese sculpture using three cheeses determined by the judges.
An American Breakthrough
Chouaf’s third place finish marks the first time an American has ever reached the podium at the competition, which has been dominated by Europeans. “It’s a huge accomplishment,” Chouaf said of the breakthrough, noting that many French cheese professionals still look down upon U.S. cheese and cheesemongering. “Many thought an American would never even place,” said Chouaf. “The fact that any of us succeeded continues to help push the needle and validate our industry on the world stage.”
And, it’s not too shabby for Charlottesville, either. Well done, Nadjeeb.