Just as most basketball fans didn't pay much heed to UNC Asheville before the Bulldogs stomped Arkansas-Little Rock in overtime last night, Scardello Cheese owner Rich Rogers hopes his shop's second annual cheese bracket will bring attention to overlooked cheese regions.
France took the "Tour de Fromage" title last year, but Rogers doesn't anticipate a repeat victory -- especially since the nation faces Italy in the first round.
"This will be a good way to kick it off," Rogers says of tonight's match-up.
The competition series unfolds over seven weeks, with participants paying $25 for each blind tasting session. Upcoming matches include "East Coast vs. Mid-U.S.", "West Coast vs. British Isles" and "Spain vs. Switzerland." Since there's no fair way to seed the competitors, the couplings are chosen randomly.
To choose a winner, participants sample five pairs of cheeses. The region which wins the most pairs moves on to the next round.
"What I like about this is it changes people's perspectives," Rogers says. When the cheeses are revealed, "there's usually a lot of gasping in the room."
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Last year, West Coast cheeses upset Italian cheeses.
"People were shocked," Rogers says.
Tonight's class is already overbooked, but Scardello's added a second France vs. Italy session on Friday.
"It's a lot of fun," Rogers says. "It's one class where if it was possible for me attend, I would."