Local cheesemongers take home wins at national invitational

Nadjeeb Chouaf, with Flora Artisanal Cheese at Timbercreek Market, took home first place after four years of competing in the national Cheesemonger Invitational. Photo by Ryan Jones Nadjeeb Chouaf, with Flora Artisanal Cheese at Timbercreek Market, took home first place after four years of competing in the national Cheesemonger Invitational. Photo by Ryan Jones

Charlottesville may be known for its wine, weddings and incomparable admiration of Thomas Jefferson, but perhaps all this time we’ve been missing the city’s real gem: cheese.

This past week, two C’villians, Nadjeeb Chouaf of Flora Artisanal Cheese at Timbercreek Market and Sara Adduci at Feast!, took home first and third place respectively at the Cheesemonger Invitational, held in Long Island, New York.

“It really speaks volumes to how big food is in Charlottesville,” Adduci says. “Out of probably 50 competitors, two of the top three are from this tiny town.”

Sara Adduci at Feast! Photo by Tom McGovern
Sara Adduci at Feast! Photo by Tom McGovern

The competition, which includes events such as a blind aroma testing, cutting the exact weight of cheese by eye, speed-wrapping cheese and creating 150 perfect bites ahead of time, culminates in a final stage performance for the six finalists.

“Honestly, my first thought was ‘finally!’” says Chouaf on winning after his fourth trip to the invitational. “I like to tell people every competition has about six to 10 people who have a chance to win, and it’s just about who shows up that day. I was lucky enough to show up that day.”

Chouaf credits Ian Redshaw of Lampo for helping him create the bite of a crispy lamb mortadella cornet, stuffed with kunik, drizzled with an emulsion of pickled garlic scapes and spruce tips and topped with a pomegranate seed that helped him win the competition.

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Go behind the counter with Sara Adduci

He compares cheese culture to the way people used to approach wine. He says customers would stay away from what they didn’t know because they felt they didn’t have the knowledge to talk about it. This is why cheesemongers, he says, are so important.

“We’re there [in the shop] to be educators and to tell the story of the cheese,” he says. “We want to help match the perfect cheese to each customer and start a conversation, to start a relationship.”

Adduci couldn’t agree more. “We want to guide you to the cheese you’ll love, that will impress your mother-in-law or your friend Joe down the way who just wants a simple cheddar. We want to help you step out of your cheese box.”

Turkish delight

Sultan Kebab has been trying to leave its location on the corner of Route 29 and Rio Road since last year, and the Route 29 construction was the final push, says co-owner Deniz Dikmen. At last, the only Turkish restaurant in Charlottesville has found its new home, a space roughly three times the size of its original location, in the Treehouse, on the corner of Garrett and Second streets.

The restaurant, which opened in 2012, continues to serve its signature Turkish dishes but with roughly 25 percent more menu items, including Turkish-style lamb chops and a larger vegetarian and vegan menu.

Tasty tidbits

Sweet summertime…It’s finally July and the fruit’s all here. The Pie Chest is transitioning to its summer menu with lots of blackberries, cherries and peaches from the Local Food Hub. Better with age…The “sugaristas” at Paradox Pastry celebrated its fourth birthday June 12, by posting a photo on Facebook of all the cookbooks that served as inspiration before the cafe opened. Last-place winner…Despite coming in dead last behind Williamsburg, Virginia Beach and Harrisonburg in a Twitter poll about where Sugar Shack Donuts’ next location should be, the franchise will be making its way to Charlottesville. The company says, “It’s a definite without a definite timeline.”