NCheeseAA Round of 32: Creamed Cheese City, Baby!
April 15, 2008

(Seriously, were's Dick Vitale when you need him?) Well, after an intensely sweaty round last week, we've cut the cheese (heh) contenders to 32 and these are some pretty tough match-ups, people. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be able to choose between British Cheddar and Stilton, and the Boursin vs. Port Wine Spread is also set to be real a nail biter. Anyway, once again it's time to vote! Bracket! Read!

Humboldt Fog vs. Brie. Brie cruised to a fairly decisive victory in the last round, more so than the Fog, and it looks likely to carry the day in the 32 round as well -- it's the better known of the two, and the more versatile. But as with so many of the match-ups, which cheese wins depends on how voters think about the selection. Do you pick the cheese you eat the most frequently, or the one you like the best? Do you base your choice on "objective" merit, or on which cheese you'd want if you could only have one from now on? There's no "wrong" way to decide, of course…and I think Brie wins again, regardless of voting perspective.

Gorgonzola vs. Parmigiano-Reggiano. Gorgo doesn't stand a great chance here; Parmo is a multi-talented cheese that has its finger in hundreds of recipes. Gorgonzola is less essential by volume, but leaves a bigger hole when it's missing, in my opinion. Then again, my opinion picked provolone to stomp 'em all, big and small, and my salty sandwich-saving friend is already out of the running, so: Parm-Reg for the win again.

British Cheddar vs. Stilton. Paging King Solomon! King Solomon, you're needed at the cheese shop. Oh, and bring a sword. Seriously? I can't do this. I love both these cheeses to death. The desert island test doesn't even work on this one, because I'd be all grass is greener no matter which one I'd chose. And then I'd resent Stilton, lying over there on his beach chair, getting all sweaty, for not being Cheddar. Or I'd see Cheddar catching fish and think, "Stilton would have it fried up by now while providing a nice sauce." This match-up is going to make the Havarti vs. Provolone game look like recess; it's almost too close to call. However, I'll go with Brit. Cheddar in the hopes of seeing a future Revolutionary War between it and Vermont.

Roquefort vs. St. Nectaire. We've got a mother-lovin' stank off right there. Roquefort is craggy, bluish green, and needs to be refrigerated to prevent it from oozing stink all over the counter. St. Nectaire is smooshy, buttery, and whiffs really ripe even when it's not. The fact that two of Club French Stench beat out what are definitely blander cheeses means that the public is willing to take a chance on either of these two. Meanwhile, outside well-appointed cheese shops, Roquefort is better known -- hell, it's the name of the mouse in Disney's The Aristocats -- so I predict that will work in its favor.

Port Wine vs. Boursin. What we have here is the battle of a Vander Weide Christmas Eve dinner. Comprised totally of "tidbits" and appetizers, you can't have escargot and sweet and sour chicken drumettes without a round of Boursin and the tub of sherbert-swirled port wine spread. They both bring a unique and fab flavor to their a-game. Port wine spread is all sharp and tangy and makes the underagers think they're sophisticated and getting away with a taste of alcohol, but Boursin is crumbly, herb-y, and almost buttery. Yeah, this is a toughie but I think more people out there have had the swirled experience that is the port wine spread, so it will squeak by with a win.

Baby Bel/Bon Bel vs. cream cheese. I can't say whether the Bel/Philly poll will turn into a street fight, but it's a hair-puller in my head for sure. On one hand, I love love love the Bels, both Baby and Bon; I have very fond childhood memories of my dad teaching me and my bro to make wax dactyls and throw them at the walls. And the ceilings. And the pets. And our mom and each other and passing cars. Good times. Also, the current Baby Bel ad features a lady using my favorite expression for a high five, "up top." On the other hand, cream cheese does not fuck around. It's in cheesecake. It's in those little whores doovers with the bean dip and the tortilla. And with herbs in it, on a sesame bagel with a fresh tomato, it's God's gift to Sunday morning. Much as it pains me to say, it's the Bels left bleeding in the alley.

Polly-O String Cheese vs. Gouda. Gouda more or less had a bye in the last round; soy cheese isn't much competition for any cheese, and Gouda's a heavyweight that I don't anticipate will have much trouble trouncing Polly-O. I love the stuff, but it's a gimmick cheese that's no match for a top seed.

Vermont Cheddar vs. Monterey Jack. I'd say that this scrimmage was about the lovely, mass-produced American cheese of my youth, but Vermont Cheddar has come a long way, baby. The blocks branded with "sharp" actually are, and Cabot has taken a page from the Brits by one of their offerings. I almost feel sorry for poor old Monty Jack here, because cheddar is king of cheese and Vermont-produced is no exception. All hail Vt Cheddar for the win.

Gruyère vs. Swiss/Emmenthaler. It's rather odd to have the primary ingredients of fondue pitted against each other; we didn't expect Swiss-E to survive its showdown with Muenster -- which it nearly didn't, upsetting the Muenst with only 51 percent of the vote. Gruyère, meanwhile, sailed into the Round Of 32 by a big margin, and while it'll have more work cut out for it against a strongly branded sandwich cheese (co-star of, to name one, the Reuben, a championship flavor combination to which the Swiss-y bite is key), Gruyère has a smoother finish, and is more snackable solo. Gruyère gets my vote, but from here, it looks like a toss-up.

Havarti vs. Mozzarella. For me, there is no contest here, it's havarti for the win. Then again, I have a storied aversion to mozzarella. I've tried and I've tried and I've tried to like it. I've paired it with The Best tomatoes and The Best olive oil and The Best basil and The Best vinegar, but ugh. It's still mushy and bland and…wet. I'm suspicious of a cheese that spends its storage sitting around in a shallow pool of cloudy water.

Ricotta vs. Asiago. Well, it's ingredient cheese vs. sandwich cheese, here. I've had farm-fresh ricotta and I've had it in various preparations -- sweet and savory -- and, for me, it still runs a distant second to chèvre. But then, I've never been the biggest Asiago fan, either. (I've been known to call it "Assy-ago" in mixed company.) However, what Asiago does for me is providing just enough saltiness on a pizza without making the pie too cheese-heavy, and for that I am 211 times grateful. Since it made it this far, I call the game for Asiago.

Mascarpone vs. Pecorino Romano. This match-up is the fruit of two upsets -- not a huge one, in the case of Pecorino Romano, but it's a bit surprising that mascarpone is still in it, and I don't expect that to continue much longer. It's ranked last in its draw for a reason, and while I like tiramisu well enough, it's my impression that mascarpone is primarily a dessert cheese -- which, because I don't really have a sweet tooth to speak of, takes it most of the way off my radar. Googling the 'Pone turns up a few appetizer recipes, but it seems like a stretch; Pec Rom is more adaptable and more savory, which is what I like. I suspect voters will agree: Pecorino Romano by a comfortable, if not gigantic, margin.

Fourme d'Ambert vs. Raclette. Have you ever had raclette on a burger? Yeah, I know! What about Fourme d'Ambert or just any strong blue cheese -- have you done that? Yep. What I'd like to do is pile both on a medium-rare patty, sit back, and wait for St. Peter to open those gates. Those who have had raclette in that hard-to-find way, the one where you heat it and scrape it in front of a roaring Swiss Alps fire, well, they're the lucky ones. And they know it. As much as I adore my Fourme d'Ambert, I think raclette is the victor here.

Garrotxa vs. Fiore Sardo. Interesting pairing. In our write-ups for their previous matches, we predicted the winners correctly -- and gave similar reasoning for each, namely that each was more approachable than its opponent. But neither one won by much, and now that they face each other, it's once again a tough call. I feel the Garrotxa is more rewarding, with a broader range of flavors, but I don't know that it's as recipe-friendly as the FS. Still, I predict that it's arrivederci for Fiore Sardo this time.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve vs. Mt. Tam Two amazing, artisanal, American cheeses, one slot. Because I'm so torn, this is where I'd have to employ Bunting's desert island test. Pleasant Ridge is caramelized and sharp with amazing depths of flavor, but Mt. Tam is triple cream. PR is toothsome and grateable, but Mt. Tam is triple cream. PR will last a long time without molding or oxidizing, but Mt. Tam is triple cream. Pleasant Ridge probably should win this one, but Mt. Tam is triple cream.

Burrata vs. Cashel Blue. Well, shit. Cashel Blue barely held off fromage blanc, while Burrata didn't get nearly the fight from Idiazabal that I'd expected in the last round, and it's my sense that blues tend to come in with a disadvantage in these match-ups. The Cash could surprise me -- with such a dissimilar opponent, it may have a chance if blue partisans give it a push -- but Burrata's distinctive presentation and rich flavors will make it just as tough to beat here as it was in the 64 round. In other words, while I urge you to vote Cashel, I understand why you wouldn't…and I'm pretty sure you won't.

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