NCheeseAA: Elite Grate
April 25, 2008

Get out your boxes and your microplanes because after Mt. Tam and Cashel Blue made a stink in the last round, it is now time for the Elite Grate! We are drawing closer and closer to an American Cheesolution between British and Vermont Cheddar. Just don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes. (And no one else will get why that is funny because I am the biggest cheese nerd around.) Meanwhile, you all just leave me to my cheese puns and Get out the VOTE!

Parmigiano-Reggiano vs. British Cheddar. I didn't think much of Parm-Reg's prospects in the draw, at least initially, and Keckler and I both called Brie to beat it in the last round -- but any contestant that can beat the quintessential cocktail-party cheese is clearly a force to be reckoned with. But can it overpower British Cheddar? It's tempting to say no, based on Brit Ched's march-to-the-sea-ish dominance thus far -- but despite The Brawler From Britain's most recent victory, a businesslike rout of Roquefort, I think it's in for its first meaningful challenge since facing Camembert in the Round Of 64. Parm has more uses in the kitchen, pairing better with a salad or an olive plate, and translates to a wider variety of cuisines…but I have to call it for British Cheddar, and the crumbly heaven it makes with a sour-apple tart.

Cream cheese vs. Vermont Cheddar. Okay, I'll admit it: I'm a little bitter that cream cheese beat Boursin so easily in the last round. I mean, I snack regularly on those silver blocks, but Boursin has something special. Something that no flavored cream cheese can hope to achieve. It's got oomph! Sigh. ANYWAY, what's going to happen here? I honestly have no idea. Vermont Cheddar had a really tough fight with Gouda in the last round, which just shows how beloved both of those cheeses are. This fight? Well, it will be interesting. Cream cheese has that comfort-food appeal. It's never-changing, it's constant, and it's not threatening. It's classic. Vermont Cheddar, on the other hand, has gone through a few changes over the years -- some good, some not so much -- and now offers a nice array of variations on the theme. I'm putting my firm faith in Cheddar lovers in this match-up, and predicting that Vt. Ched will schmear cream cheese.

Mozzarella vs. Pecorino Romano. Geh, I hate match-ups like this one where it's like choosing between…I don't even know. Pugs and shampoo, or something. Pugs = aw, greasy hair = ew, and one has nothing to do with the other, really, unless you have to shampoo your pug, and good luck to you with that. …What was I saying? Right: mozz and Pec. Tough call. Neither one killed its opponent in the previous round, but as I've said before, mozzarella is viewed as a staple; Pecorino Romano isn't. Mozzarella is a pizza essential; Pecorino Romano isn't. Mozzarella is going through to the next round; Pecorino Romano, while I'd pick it for desert-island duty, isn't.

Raclette vs. Mt. Tam. I know Bunting is apoplectic that Raclette has made it this far, but I'm okay with this scrape-able, meltable player. I mean, it doesn't actually have to be melted to be enjoyed, and if you can get your hands on a fine, fruity specimen, it's as good as -- some argue even better than, because of its supple mouthfeel -- snacking on Gruyère. However, if melting is your aim and you don't want to bother with a special machine, all you need to do is pop some chunks of cheese on ovenproof plates and slide it in a 450° oven for some true Melting Madness. But can all of this drown out the siren song that a velvety and fat round of Mt. Tam warbles around chunks of bread and jugs of wine? Probably not. I believe Raclette's winning streak ends here, and Mt. Tam will run it out of town.

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