Dispatch From the Brooklyn Cheese Experiment


The Bell House yesterday played host to the Brooklyn Cheese Experiment, a polite maelstrom of dairy, beer, and DIY showmanship. Home cooks and home brewers competed for the hearts and stomach linings of the audience and judges alike; inhuman quantities of curds and whey were consumed, and untold volumes of foam were absorbed by an untold number of beards.

The festivities were organized by Nick Suarez and Theo Peck, veterans of the competitive home-cooking circuit who are already planning future experiments centered around Chinese take-out and eggs. The 17 cheese-centric competing dishes included three varieties of mac ‘n’ cheese, a polenta-mozzarella-pesto “sushi,” gougeres, cheese crackers served with tomato-ricotta shooters, homemade Indian paneer, and cheese puffs with blue cheese cream and fig reduction.

While there were some strong entries, the competition served as a reminder of one seemingly eternal (and dismaying) truth: home cooks are afraid of salt. And butter. It’s become fashionable to declare that Julia Child’s renewed popularity has inspired a hearty embrace of the two invaluable ingredients, but yesterday’s competition suggests otherwise. Even no-brainers like mac ‘n’ cheese were completely undermined by sodium phobia: All of the top-quality cheddar in Brooklyn can’t compensate timid or non-existent seasoning.

That said, some competitors did manage to stop worrying and learn to love the (gut)bomb. The judges, led by Bon Appetit‘s Andrew Knowlton, awarded Alyssa Lees’ blue cheese cream puffs third place, and second to Evelyn Kim’s rosewater knafi. First place went to Bonnie Suarez (who, aside from being a professional chef, is Nick Suarez’s mom) for her tomato-ricotta shooters. The audience chose Rebecca Landau’s ricotta cheesecake as their third-favorite entry, Suarez’s shooters as their second, and crowned Alyssa Lees as their cream puff queen. After the cheese-oriented prizes — and jars of Theo Peck’s Peck’s pate — were awarded, competitors and audience members retired to the bar for more beer and, unbelievably, yet more cheese.