Do you like cheese? (If you are lactose intolerant, tune out now. This is not for you. Sorry)
I know, it is a broad question. In general though … do you have a particular “go to” favorite or are your tastes far ranging when it comes to the multitudinous delectable selections that are available on store shelves? Fairer consideration also, whether or not your local stores offer much in terms of real selections, rather than the tired same old where the only difference appear to be brand and packaging. Coming from the north American experience I can relate to the tired same old choices where most of the cheese peddled by your local super market is either Cheddar or Mozzarella with the occasional venture off that beaten path in their deli sections. And in cases like that I prefer to find a decent neighborhood deli run by Italians who know a thing or two about cheeses and are not afraid to let your nose find them; must say that it took me a while to get used to that particular smell of a few particular delis in my area.
From softly bluish far away Fetas, beautiful bulbs of fresh buffalo milk bocconcini resting in liquids to all things Swiss, Dutch, French, Italian, English and Scandinavian with the invariably non imported “styled” selections that are produced on continent, ones head can spin and taste-buds excited by it all. The nose either offended or homing in on a particular scent, and then the argument between nose, brain and taste, when some slice, glob or dab of obviously foul smelling delights and dazzles the knowing mouth with flavors so different than the in your face vile aroma inhaled. Mix more than a handful of these odours in a cheese shop or cheese section of your local deli and wow … it can be enough to drive the weak and timid right back onto the sidewalk.
For some odd reason I enjoy a cheeses that smell like a teenagers sneaker. Not that I have an odd odour fetish, no. Nor would I suffer a shoe stink like that anywhere near me, but when it comes to cheeses and their various flavors and textures, I am a forgiving type and perhaps a bit adventurous also. How else to increase the knowledge, expand ones palette and embrace all that is cheese without a bit of daring do? Having said that I do not pretend or allude to being a cheese freak or someone with a text book knowledge of all there is to know. No. I just like cheese.
Simple, complex, mild or stinky. Cheese is a food of wonder and at times I wonder why oh why it stinks to high heaven and what could possibly attract me to put something foul smelling into my own mouth. Compare this conundrum with say … that most foul smelling of fruits called the Durian (the edible fruit of a tree, Durio zibethinus, of the bombax family, of southeastern Asia, having a hard, prickly rind, a highly flavored, pulpy flesh, and an unpleasant odor) and to its ardent worshippers of its flavor and my reaction is radically skeptic (I have seen pictures, read reports, and have tasted an artisan ice creme creation from the source fruit; yet have never actually dipped my spoon into the sofly golden mass and tasted for myself and in case you were wondering, no. I´ve not been to places where this fruit grows. I know via the grapevine that it is not allowed aboard aircraft; for good reasons).
For those same self good reasons, I am of the steadfast mind that airline passengers should not under any circumstances be allowed to bring their favorite stinky cheese on board and consume same. This dearly held conviction suddenly annexed after innocently observing an kindly older woman unzip a small plastic bag of some kind of cheese on her lap; the force of its odor so powerful in that confined a space, that it made my eyes water and I nearly gagged before she even got the piece of rudeness to her mouth, her expression pure bliss as she shared it with her husband.
Their enjoyment of the moment in hot terrible contrast to what I and undoubtedly others inside that metal tube were suddenly assaulted with. Had I not been constrained by my seat-belt and hemmed in on both sides by travel companions, I might have considered kicking out a window in sheer panic, induced by that vile pungent stench emanating from that little plastic bag on that woman’s lap. Perhaps her seating companions had already passed out. Thankfully the bag was soon zipped up again, but the damage had been done and drama created. No, the oxygen masks remained out of site above, the rancid stench not enough to automatically deploy them from the overhead to offer welcome relief, bummer. I prayed then, that she and her mate would consume the entire contents of that bag and save the rest of us from further horrors. At that exact point, I would gladly have stuffed french roasted coffee beans up my nose.
The above is a very real and dramatic recounting of what the extremes of cheesiness can be. The other extreme is hardly worth mentioning. It is a white, soft, flavor-less spreadable kind of cheese … did I mention flavor less? Thought so. It probably doesn´t even deserve the name it is given.
I realize there are many other exciting and perhaps even dangerous cheeses and other equally boring examples of what has been done with milk product from various beasts but like I said, I am not expert in this field of flavor, just an intensely interested taster.
Last night for instance was a delight. I was invited to a Raclette dinner with friends (a Swiss dish, made by heating a piece of cheese, as over a hearth, and scraping off the melted part onto a plate: served with boiled potatoes). The dish is named for the cheese used in making same said dish and comes from either France or Switzerland. The heart bit is a Raclette grill set sitting center piece on the dinning table, plugged in and hot, ready to accept the little square or triangle shaped pans laden with pieces of the favored brand of cheese, festooned and garnished with other bits of foods such as onion slices, pickled onions, pickles or conrnichons, delicate slices of ham, sliced mushrooms, peppers or whatever tickles ones fancy. Also a popular spicing agent is ground black pepper mixed with ground nutmeg. And last night I discovered something I never would have combined with this cheese … banana. Or curry powder. But it was on the table and I did try it. It didn´t taste bad.
This dish is a wonderful table experience, each guest building and putting together their own creations and once melted together in their little pans safely tucked into their part of the grill, the pans are gently and eagerly emptied of their bubbling content over hot sliced small potatoes and then eaten with relish (no, I don´t think one actually adds relish). Conversation ebbs an flows, now and then every accompanying garnishment of the meal is passed round the table and everyone helps themselves to their hearts content. Too much of this good thing could disturb ones heart content and so it is best enjoyed in balance. A winters dish of my liking.
Not least but last in this cheesy rambling I would be remiss to forget the simple cheese sandwich. My favorite is a good hearty rye bread, decent butter and two pieces of whatever cheese I chose to use for the purpose. Open faced or closed style, this robust staple rocks. Every time.
I like cheeses and hope to add more discoveries to my palette of tastes that delight and satisfy. Note, an intense and full flavored Swiss Tilsiter in sandwiches in a satchel will turn heads from a few feet away. I turned heads last week.