How to eat cheese…

I am a girl from Wisconsin.  Wisconsin is know as “the dairy state”, just check their license plates for proof.  EVERYONE from Wisconsin is suppose to drink beer and be a cheese head. Well, I don’t like beer and until very recently, I didn’t like cheese. Which explains why I had to move to California.

I grew up with Velveeta, as the “kids cheese” for grilled cheese sandwiches.  So a “croque monsieur” for us would be,  Wonder bread, spread with margarine, and grilled with Velveeta and Spam.Wow, what a treat!!  (Yes, followed by green Jello with Kraft Salad Dressing and fruit cocktail from the can, served on head lettuce.)

I remember my grandfather eating Limburger cheese.  If you ever smelled Limburger cheese, you will never forget it.  Like the first time you dissected a frog in school and smelled the formaldehyde.   Smells you will never forget…but wish you could.

So, as a chef, I was forced to work with cheese.  Easy to start with Monterey Jack (which does not even count as a cheese from my perspective now), cows milk Mozzarella, and grated Parmesan.  Then came boring Swiss and Cheddars* (can you actually TASTE the cheese on cheeseburger?)….advancing, I worked my way to goat cheese and Di Bufala Mozzarella …and then to Bries…and now, to Blues…oh, those elegant blues…I can’t live without you blues!

And it’s the blue which has brought me full circle back to Wisconsin.  I have never returned to state of my birth since coming to California in 1971.  Never.  Even though my family is there.  I simply can not physically go back.  But the cheese has brought me home.

Buttermilk Blue...but there's no buttermilk in it.

Wisconsin Buttermilk Blue Cheese by Roth Kase has brought me home.  First, I saw it. Sitting in the cold case at Farmstead Cheeses in Montclair.  It’s beautiful to behold.  Creamy white and just the right shade of blue interlaced mold.  Then I asked for a taste.  They cut me the thinnest possible slice, which meant that it had warmed slightly.  Oh my.  Nothing to compare to this.  I can’t begin to describe it.  Reminds me of the scene in “Ratatouille” where the rat is trying to describe the flavors… you can’t.  It has to be experienced.  I fell in love with a blue cheese.  Right there, at Farmstead Cheese.  I could have wept, but didn’t.  I waited until I got home with a quarter pound of my own.

I’ve now discovered Buttermilk Blue at Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl.  And I am betting that I am going to get an email from Ruth Stroup saying something like “I’ve been serving BB for years!” Of course you have, but as I said, I slept through the cheese years and only just woke up.

So, how to eat cheese.  This, of course, is my personal opinion  – but backed by many, well some, anyway.  The only thing you need to know is that CHEESE IS A FINGER FOOD.  That means, that like fried chicken, cheese is meant to be eaten with the hands.  That includes soft, runny cheeses, as well as hard cheese.  Cheese is meant to be eaten at room temperature.  Not ON a cracker, or on bread, or on an apple slice, or a celery stick.  Those things are to eat AFTER you have taken a bite of your cheese.  Cheese should be served as thinly sliced as possible.  Not in CUBES or CHUNKS, but in paper thin slices.  Even hard cheese should be served this way.  Shaved Parmesan has a completely different flavor than a chunk of Parmesan. Try this as an experiment and notice the total difference in flavor and texture.

Of course, hot cheeses, or grilled cheeses, or cheese shaved on top of pastas are a completely different animal. I talk here of table cheese.

Generally, cheeses are to paired WITH other foods, not served on top of them. Dark chocolate taken after a bite of blue cheese is unbelievably  good. Apples do make a good accompaniment with cheddar, and grapes and figs do pair well with certain bries.  Wine, both red and white, goes with cheeses.  Consult your wine or cheese expert on which goes with which. Farmstead Cheese and Wine happens to be my favorite as you can get good advice on both cheese and wine.  Generally, grassy cheeses will go with whites.  I drink red with everything (even popcorn).

Tonight, when I give thanks for all my blessings, I will be adding cheese to the top of my list.

*A not-boring cheddar is Beehive’s Seahive  cheddar – find it at Farmstead and Whole Foods.  Slight hint of honey and salt in a mild cheese with good texture.

Seehive's Beehive cheddar.

 


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