Your restaurant may not be able to employ a director of purchasing the way large chains and multiconcept operators do. And only a handful of elite restaurants can keep dedicated foragers on staff to hunt down premier ingredients. But the results of professionally judged competitions held in key food and beverage categories can help any chef or operator discover which products are best. That’s why it’s worth looking at the outcomes of two recent contests—the World Championship Cheese Contest and the Ultimate Spirits Challenge—and leveraging the promotional possibilities the winning products might provide.
The 30th edition of the biennial World Championship Cheese Contest, recently held in Madison, WI, attracted 2,615 entries representing 22 countries. The judging panel consisted of 50 cheese experts drawn from 19 countries and 14 U.S. states. And yes, top honors went to a trio of Europeans, with the overall winner being cheesemaker Gerard Sinnesberger from Kaserei Sinnesberger in Gams, Switzerland. He won for his Original Schweizer Rohmilch Emmentaler, a large format, big wheel Swiss.
But those weren’t the only awards passed out. Ninety different categories were judged, and U.S. producers took gold medals in 59 of them. Switzerland, with seven golds, finished a distant second.
While procuring top-ranking Swiss-made cheese might be difficult or expensive, or both, a large number of the winning U.S. cheeses can be sourced through distribution channels you already use and are available at prices you can live with. Your restaurant can probably get a bunch of gold medal-winning cheeses delivered in your next order by contacting your broadline or specialty foods distributor.
Which ones? Check out the list of winners here, then start figuring out how you could promote them on your menu.
Need some ideas? You could top your cheeseburgers with a slice of the cheddar judged “Best in Class” in the World Championship Cheese Contest, use only prize-winning mozzarella on your pizzas or blend a few of the winners together to produce the mac ‘n cheese of champs. If you’re looking for a way to differentiate your restaurant’s version of common items, preparing them with a World Championship Cheese Competition gold medal winner could be the way to go.
Results of the Ultimate Sprits Challenge contest can provide a similar opportunity for restaurant operators, particularly those looking to serve cool cocktails made from the most affordable ingredients.
The judges for the fifth edition of this annual event included some of the hippest mixologists and bartending whizzes around. The panel included cocktail king Dale DeGroff, Tippling Bros. partner Tad Carducci, PDT’s Jim Meehan, ace spirits educator Steve Olson and other well-credentialed experts. The rankings this group came up with give spirit producers, importers and marketers priceless feedback about their products.
Restaurant operators can use this information in a different way. Not only can you learn how each of 218 finalists ranked. Perhaps just as importantly, you can discover which brands provide the best bang-for-the-buck by paying close attention to the 89 spirits given the “Great Value” designation.
Awards are presented in 37 spirits categories. While there is no overall winner per se, one entrant did receive a perfect score: Redbreast 21 Years Old Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey. The judges ranked it as “Extraordinary, Ultimate Recommendation.” What does it taste like? The tasting notes read: “Complex aromas of overripe banana, butterscotch, fresh cream and bacon fat. On the palate it is rich, tropical and very deep. Ripe mango, brioche and toffee lead into an exquisitely textured, dusty and smoky finish.”
Alas, this whiskey goes for $250 per 750 ml bottle, which may be too pricey for most restaurants. However, several individual category winners in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge were given the “Great Value” designation, even though they were also ranked as “Extraordinary, Ultimate Recommendation.” You can find them here.
These results also provide pricing details, judging scores and tasting notes for all the spirits that made it to the final round of judging. It’s the kind of information that could be invaluable the next time you’re making additions to your specialty cocktail offerings or looking for affordable ways to upgrade your restaurant’s bar program. Why not make this list mandatory reading for your bartenders, servers and managers?