Why this Curd Nerd is feta than the rest
Central New York is home to the best cheesemonger in the country.
Sarah Simiele likes cheese more than you do. Standing in her store "The Curd Nerd" on James Street in Syracuse, she was wearing cheese earrings and the walls of the shop were covered in cheese-themed art.
"Cheese I do all the time," Simiele said. "I am outside of work reading about cheese. I am waking up in the morning and reading some cheese news. I get cheese newsletters, I get cheese magazines, I read cheese books. I reach out to cheese makers and ask what I should know about their cheeses. That is sort of all I do."
Simiele discovered her love of cheese in college. Her background is in molecular biology — she was studying to be a doctor when some of her classmates decided to start a cheese club.
"Little did I know, cheese and biology are just the same thing," Simiele said. "I very quickly fell more in love with cheese than with medical school and sort of switched my career path."
A cheesemonger is similar to a wine sommelier. Simiele called them the bridge between the cheese and the people. She's the winner of the Cheesemonger Invitational — an event where cheesemongers from across the country compete with written tests and skill tests.
"There's a blind taste test where they give you a plate of five cheeses and you have to identify them by name, country of origin, pasteurized or unpasteurized, milk type and cheese type," Simiele said.
There's a timed cutting and wrapping section, getting 45 seconds to wrap different cuts of cheese with different techniques. An aroma competition identifying concentrated aromas by scent.
"Then we move on to a salesmanship round where you get five minutes," Simiele said. "A judge gives you a prompt that could be anything. My prompt was 'I recently got diagnosed with an allergy to dairy for cow proteins and I want a cheese that I can keep in my fridge for about two weeks.' So I had to recommend cheeses based off those criteria."
Simiele recommended a murcia al vino — which is goat milk cheese that's sat in wine and can last two weeks in a fridge. WRVO's Ava Pukatch gave her a simpler prompt: I typically buy grocery store cheddar, what would be a step up to something more fun and exciting?
Her first suggestion: a tapping reeve.
"It's going to have flavors of like clarified butter and it's going to be very approachable," Simiele said. "It's going to be not too far of cheddar, but definitely enough that you'll notice a difference."
The next: a hornbacher.
"This is a Swiss cheese that tastes like a loaded baked potato," Simiele said.
But the winner, the Goldilocks "just right" moment: an aged bloomsday.
"You're going to get more of a cheddar note on this one rather than that clarified butter, but still not quite in that like acidic cheddar range," Simiele said.
As the champion cheesemonger, she wins some trips and earnings in addition to a trophy proudly displayed in her shop, but the best prize, she said, is it will open more doors for cheese in central New York. There were about 80 different types of cheese in her store, but she's hoping her new title as Champion Cheesemonger will help bring more cheese into The Curd Nerd.