If you've followed me a while, you know this is one of my favorite events of the year. Today was the 1st 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational Tournament. After a dismal event last year, this year was really well done. This was our third year judging, and the changes they've made really helped to accommodate an event that had unexpectedly ballooned larger than they knew how to handle. I read that last year they planned for 3,000 people and got 5,000. This year they planned for 10,000. Tickets and judging registration were done in advance online this year, so the huge line that wrapped around the block when we got there was fast and easy getting us into LA Center Studios - a sprawling new location for the fest. We bypassed the vendor and sponsor areas and made a pitstop at the beer garden. Unfortunately it was basically five versions of IPA's. blech. I'm sure the hipsters loved it, but it was the one big failure of the fest this year. We moved on to the main event - the cheese! We got into the judging area near the end of the "missionary position" entries (cheese, bread, butter only) and got a couple samples of tasty cheesy goodness. That wrapped quick, so we went back out to the sponsor area. Tillamook replaced Kraft this year - and the difference was huge. The free giveaway grilled cheeses Tillamook was giving away were really damn tasty instead of the barely passable Kraft ones last year. They used sourdough, a medium cheddar and clearly some kind of good butter. The line was fast, and they were churning out tons of those - even as we left at the end of the day. Tillamook deserves kudos for really doing it up right. Then it was back to the judging for the "Kama Sutra" category, which basically allows anything as long as the sammich is 60% cheese. We sampled a lot here. A lot of the competitors tried a little too hard here too. Some used bread that was too thick to allow for grilling - great at home, but in a time crunch and limited situation, it was a downfall. Others lost out in their own marketing. For instance, one entry was billed as being all about the bacon, yet the bacon was hardly noticeable in the taste. It was a perfectly good combo of ingredients, but because it was promoted for the bacon, it ended up being disappointing. That said, there were plenty of amazing entries. Surprisingly a couple of the best were simple and unassuming veggie entries. By the time that wrapped, we were ready for the beer garden again (I never did see non-alcoholic drinks sold anywhere). Finally, the last category, "Honey Pot," was up. Again, anything goes, but entries in this category are to be sweet, not savory. By this time, the long day was clearly getting to everyone. Others judging were cranky at each other waiting and trying for samples. Competitors were reluctant to give out samples. One even was giving out samples but not ballots, saying "tell us if you like it and we'll give you a ballot." The saving grace was one finished competitor walking around with samples they made just for fun; and a team of high school students who slowly and awkwardly put together a really wonderful slightly sweet concoction with carmelized pear and boysenberry, named "secret." Perfect ending. With an event as big as this has gotten, its hard to satisfy everyone or make everything perfect, but especially after last year, this was the makings of a very Merry Cheezmas to all!