Young Cheesemonger of the Year 2023: Congratulations to Lily Morris

Trondheim Welcomes Young Cheese Mongers

6 competitors, 5 countries, 4 judges, 1 Young Cheesemonger of the Year

27th October 2023: Becoming a cheesemonger is more than selling cheese. And six contestants from around the world came together in the beautiful Norwegian city of Trondheim last Friday to prove that point.

This wasn’t the only search to find what’s hot in the cheese world taking place in this beautiful Scandinavian city: the Trondheim Spektrum was also playing host to the 35th World Cheese Awards, run by the remarkable team at the Guild of Fine Food.

And it was just prior to the crowds cheering in a home-win with Gangstad Gårdsysteri’s fudgy-blue Nidelven Blå, the gathered audience around the Academy of Cheese’s stand to the side of the Super Jury podium, witnessed the crowning of 21 year-old Lily Morris – a cheese monger from the Welsh town of Usk in Monmouthshire.

The six finalists (l-r): Álvaro Ocana Fernandez, Jake Heller, Lily Morris, Martin Thorsen, Lucy Hunt & Louis-Charles Vagost. Photo credit: Guild of Fine Food (Berre/Håkon Borgen)

Young Cheesemongers of the World Unite

It’s impressive to see how global this competition is becoming, with fresh talent hailing not only from England and Wales, but also from Spain, France, Norway, the Netherlands, the US and even as far afield as Australia.

The passion and dedication to their trade was apparent from the moment the six shortlisted contenders accepted their role as finalists. Historically, the competition has been hosted within the UK and, consequently, attracted predominantly British applicants; but this year due to its association with the Guild of Fine Food, saw it leave Great Britain for the first time, to go with the World Cheese Awards to Norway. This immediately levelled up the international playing field, and, with funding provided by sponsors Snowdonia Cheese, the Academy of Cheese were overjoyed when all six shortlisters confirmed their attendance at the finals.

I think it’s crucial to participate in these competitions, especially at the start of one’s career. Comparing yourself to colleagues from different countries can help you understand where your strengths lie. At the same time, it is possible to identify areas for improvement. This knowledge is invaluable for those who aim to reach real heights in their profession.

Galina Danard, cheese educator & international judge

To reach this stage, the finalists had already demonstrated an in-depth knowledge of cheese: their applications not only required a solid background of working within a specialist cheese retail environment, they were also asked to submit their ideal cheeseboards for a party of six, with consideration for budget, quantity and variety.

What is a Fromelier?

What was also exciting from an evolutionary perspective of the competition was the first successful application this year from a “Fromelier”, by Spanish contender Álvaro.

The term fromelier is a very young concept in the UK, and for those unfamiliar with this term, a fromelier’s role is to serve cheese with aesthetic awareness and knowledge, whilst suggesting the best pairings, in the same way that a sommelier serves and suggests the wine pairings.

Álvaro, our Spanish finalist, works in Saddle, an innovative restaurant based in Madrid, Spain, serving a cheese trolley with listings of 150 plus artisan cheeses, and was instrumental in bringing a different skill set to the competition.

The Sweet Smell of Success

Trondheim Spektrum, which as a sports venue, is accustomed to the aromas of competitive sweat and determined competition, and this weekend was no different. Except, the B-linens were omnipotent, there were aprons for kit and instead of bats and rackets, there were knives and irons. All six of our finalists had made it to Trondheim and were ready to play.

Nigel Barden interviews Martin Thorsen for World Cheese Awards TV

On the Shoulders of Giants

At 1.30pm, Tracey Colley, Director of the Academy of Cheese, took to the stage and, introducing the esteemed judges, set the competition in motion. With two previous Young Cheesemonger champions in attendance (Andy Swinscoe, owner of The Courtyard Dairy and Hero Hirsh, Head of Retail at Paxton & Whitfield), I know we are in good hands. The panel of four was completed by Galina Danard – a respected cheese educator, international judge and member of the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers – and Keith Kendrick, Group Magazines Editor, BBC Good Food & Olive and World Cheese Awards judge.

The four judges (l-r): Andy Swinscoe, Keith Kendrick, Hero Hirsh & Galina Danard

Round One – The Interview

Conducted by Academy of Cheese Director, Ros Windsor, each of our finalists had five minutes each to talk about their relatively new experiences in the cheese industry and justify the choices they made for their submitted cheeseboards. Talking with confidence and ambition, they delivered their impressive resumes and talked with passion about their cheeses.

Alongside familiar cheese brands, such as Baron Bigod, Taleggio and Rogue River Blue, we learnt of some new, exciting ones, such as Fat Cat – a full-flavoured, raw cow’s milk, washed rind made at Birch Run Farm in Philadelphia, US and La Brique Sakura – a creamy goat’s cheese ripened with a Japanese Cherry leaf inside. I will be searching for those on my cheese travels, that’s for sure!

Round Two – Cut and Wrap

They were then put through their paces with an adept demonstration of “cut and wrap” skills. 300g and 100g wedges of both a hard cheddar and soft brie were measured (without scales) and neatly wrapped with focus and deep concentration. With a five point bonus hanging in the air for anyone that hit the nose on the head with their guesswork, the closest anyone got was a 101g from Álvaro.

Martin, Lucy & Alvaro show off their cheese wrapping skills

Round Three – Identification

The penultimate “identification” round involved much ruminating, sniffing and tasting of four mystery cheeses. Despite its title, this round wasn’t so much about knowing the name of each cheese, but more an accurate observation of it’s appearance, texture, smell and taste, using the Academy’s Structured Approach to Tasting Cheese. And whilst the Epoisses tried to escape off the table, the Roquefort watched on glistening, Le Gruyere AOP towered above regally, as any multi-award winner should and the humble Gorwydd Caerphilly sat silently, taking it all in. And then they were gone – whisked away in preparation for the final round.

All six finalists go head-to-head in the Identification Round

Round Four – MasterRind

With a tightly-fought competition approaching its climax, the title was still there for the taking, right up until the last round. “MasterRind” – a quiz originally devised by the legend that is Justin Tunstall, where everyone’s specialist subject is cheese, tested the contestants on their international cheese knowledge.

The stakes were high, with the winner not only set to raise the trophy and cement their careers in the industry but they would also get to judge at the World Cheese Awards 2024 and secure a place on the Academy of Cheese Level Two certification course. 

This year’s quiz master, Academy of Cheese Education Project Manager, Katy Fenwick, posed ten questions to each competitor and received an impressive set of answers back. There really was not much in it, as the judges retired to tot up the final scores.

Katy Fenwick quizzes Martin Thorsen in MasterRind

Young Cheesemonger of the Year 2022

Whilst the judges deliberated and mused, Tracey spied incumbent Young Cheesemonger of the Year, Aimée Rogers from Buchanans Cheesemonger, in the audience and invited her up onto the stage. When asked whether her life had changed much in the past year, Aimée reminded us all that winning the title had facilitated her presence as a judge at this year’s World Cheese Awards. It was heartwarming to hear how Aimée’s career had been springboarded by the award, whilst learning that her allegiances were still firmly rooted with Buchanans.

The Scores Are In

The judges returned to the seats and, whilst the scores were verified, another previous winner of the award, Andy Swinscoe from The Courtyard Dairy regaled us with his tales of success and news of his new on-site restaurant, Rind – a joint venture with cheese industry pioneer, Mathew Carver of The Cheese Bar chain of restaurants.

It wasn’t long before Ros took to the stage for the last time and announced this year’s winner as Welsh cheesemonger, Lily Morris. An emotional Lily thanked her mentors, Nick Bayne from The Fine Cheese Co. and Ben Hildreth for getting her started on her cheese journey, whilst her jubilant partner, Jake, who had accompanied Lily out to Norway, proudly watched on with the biggest grin.

Young Cheesemonger of the Year receives her trophy

Our champion cheesemonger had to wait a bit longer, however, for her trophy – this was presented at the WCA Judges’ Dinner later that evening by Richard Newton-Jones from sponsors Snowdonia Cheese.

I am honoured to have won Young Cheesemonger of the Year 2023! It was the best day, surrounded by thousands of tasty cheeses and lots of lovely cheesy people. The award has inspired me to continue my cheese career, selling and educating others about artisan cheese, and most importantly, it has reminded me to keep spreading the message that it doesn’t matter who you are, if you have a passion for something; go do it. You never know what doors it will open for you, and that’s so exciting.”

Lily, the youngest of the competitors, aged just 21, from Usk in Monmouthshire, has worked at her family’s business, Morris of Usk Garden Centre and Farm Shop since 2017. She was responsible for setting up their dedicated cheese and deli counter in 2022 and now manages the counters and the 40 or so cheeses they list. As well as her successful cheese mongering career, Lily also has a burgeoning social media account @thepetitecheese, where she educates her followers about the world of cheese.

Lily showed real skill in cheesemongering; not only in technical ability but her passion for cheese produced in her region was evident.  She was a worthy winner. Across the board all the the entries were brilliant and it was exciting to see such high calibre of young people having a real passion for quality artisan cheese and where their produce comes from. The Academy of Cheese Courses have done a great job of inspiring the next generation of cheese champions and it showed. 

Andy Swinscoe, Owner at The Courtyard Dairy

Lily Morris Young Cheesemonger of the Year 2023

Lily is an Associate of the Academy of Cheese, having passed her Level One exam in August 2022 and is currently studying towards her Level Two certification. Part of her prize includes five Level Three modules, leaving her with just three more to complete in order to become a Fellow of the Academy and well on her way to Master of Cheese status.

Congratulations Lily!

Take a look at Lily’s recommended cheeseboard here.

The runners up

2nd Place – Jake Heller

3rd Place – Louis-Charles Vagost

While it would have been nice to win first place in the competition, the real prize was getting to meet other enthusiastic mongers and makers, chatting cheese, and experiencing the excitement of the World Cheese Awards from the inside.

Jake Heller

With thanks to…

We would like to thank Snowdonia Cheese for sponsoring the event; Hero Hirsh of Paxton & Whitfield, Andy Swinscoe from The Courtyard Dairy, Galina Danard of Partout Fromage and Keith Kendrick from BBC Good Food for their impartial judging skills; Svein-Erik Backlund of Oluf Lorentzen for helping with logistics before, during and after the event, Savencia Fromage & Dairy, Le Gruyere AOP, Oluf Lorentzen & The Fine Cheese Co. for providing the competition cheeses and finally to the Guild of Fine Food for providing the venue and vehicle to deliver the final competition. We really could not have done it without the help of all these wonderful people.

Tasting Toolkit

Three useful tools from the Academy Of Cheese to help you taste cheese like a pro.

Rachel Holding | Academy of Cheese Writer

Rachel loves a good cheese and wine session. Her love of all cheeses, artisanal or otherwise, has grown from her early years of working on the cheese counter at Fortnum & Mason.  She has a personal mission to taste as many cheeses as possible and to encourage this passion in others.

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