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Archive for November, 2011

Cheese

My love affair with cheese began as a child – memories of my mother offering what my 6 year old sister and I called ‘tinsels’ of cheese while she was grating a nice big yellowy cheddar (Tillamook?) on a box grater are still pretty clear to me. The tinsels were tiny little gratings and were a nice snack for little kids such as us. For many years cheese to me meant ‘cheddar’, ‘jack’ and ‘american’. I hated american cheese ’cause it tasted fake, gluey, and artificial. Mozzarella was something that went on a pizza and I never gave it much though. Friends houses sometimes had ‘muenster’ cheese (you get get that at Safeway, Bi-Mart, or Fred Meyer) but we never bought it. To me it was just like jack though slightly exotic. It wasn’t until years later that I tasted the real french version. Little by little other varieties came into focus: Havarti, Fontina (again not the real version), Colby, etc. All suitable for the american palate and supermarket friendly. It took my first trip to France in the 90’s to make me realize that american cheese was nearly non-existant and we the populace blissfully happy our ignorance and depravation. In France cheese is worthy of gargantuan displays at street markets, hundreds if not thousands of fromageries, or cheese shops, worthy of its own course during a meal, stinky, mild, goaty, fresh, aged, soft, and hard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During that trip I found myself one evening seated at a bouchon old part of Lyon. After a meal of saucisson with lentils, curly endive salad with egg and giant cubes of bacon, tripe, and boudin noir, my traveling companion and I stared in horror as our waitress marched to our table with a platter weighed down with 5 cheeses: Camembert, St marcelin, Rocamadour, a local goat marinated in olive oil and herbs,  as well as an intense cheese spread called Fromage Fort. Marching off again we find she couldn’t bring it all in one trip for now she carried a bowl of  cervelle de canut – fromage blanc (like ricotta?) flavored with vinigar, herbs and garlic. There we were, stomachs bursting at their seems from our massive meal only to try to at least sample some of the wonderful cheese course presented. I think that it was then that I feel in love with St Marcellin – it is Lyon’s best loved cheese and is so runny that it often comes in a pretty little terra cotta crock – one eats it with a spoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fromage Fort is one of those things that americans would be well expected to not like due to it’s sheer power and intensity. Its left over bits of cheese (usually the stinky varieties) combined with eau de vie (a sort of brandy), herbs, wine, spices, then left for months to ferment. you eat with cotes du rhone or morgon (a beaujolais) and bread. Well what the hell? I ate trip and blood sausage for the first time – why not a fermented cheese spread? The smell was over powering but the bite itself is rugged, complex, stinky, and delicious.

I’ve fallen in love with shopping at the many outdoor markets in France. During a recent trip to Paris, CAV wanted to show me the market at place maubert a few moments walk from his apartment from when he lived there. Again I was amazed at the bounty of beutiful produce, fruits, meats and cheeses. The cheese stand was copious and brimming with varieties known and unknown to me. A real treat. Oh to live there!

 

 

 

 


Along with brie de meaux, camembert, comte, and roquefort, lesser known varieties seldom seen outside of France are also present.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving Paris, we head south one afternoon to spend a few days in the vineyards of Burgundy. I search out Beaune’s best fromagerie  Alain Hess as I want to smuggle a few things home in my bags.



The display case at Alain Hess is gorgeous. The cheeses are laid out with plenty of spacing, brightly lit, tidy, and appealing.

 

 

 

On my visit I bought Maroilles, Aisy Cendre, a few local goat cheeses, and a fun little corkscrew. Everything I’ve purchased is rarely or never seen in America. My dilemma on how to pack this all up and get past customs is solved instantly when I learn that I’m just the latest in a long line of American travelers wanting to bring good stuff home with them: out of view is a heavy duty vacuum packing device. All I have to do is take my vacuum packed cheeses and store them in the mini bar until my flight a few days later. 24 hours door to door; often bags are in a very cold part of the plane. At least I comfort myself with this assumption.



The previous day one of our traveling companions says he wants to rent bikes and visit the grand cru’s that exist along side a bike path that winds its way through tiny sleepy little towns that all seem to have the names of famous french wines. We ride through Beaune and quckly find ourselves surrounded by Pinot Noir vines.


So there you have it. The purpose of this posting was to get the conversation started on the subject of cheese. I’ll be submitting posts in this category as often as I can. I am also happy to say that American cheese has come a long way since the 90s. We now have hundreds and hundreds of varieties to choose from, washed rind, goat, ewe, firm, semi soft, fresh. More come to market every day. I think we’re in for an exciting time as far as American cheeses go. Please watch this space as I introduce some of my favorites in future posts!
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