Food — It’s not easy to be cheesy

It’s not easy to be cheesy

By Amy Diaz

Soft, crumbly or reminiscent of feet — they all eat 

I love cheese.

Cheese is the perfect food — it’s good on its own and it makes any dish it’s in better. Soft or hard; salty, spicy or mild, piquant or tame, stinky or stinkier. I get guilty pangs spending more than $20 per item on clothes but I have no problem spending $7 on a chunk of cheese that fits in my palm.

Cheap knives & edible plates

Cheese is so glorious it deserves special knives.

Special graters and plates and forks and even the special, separate course it receives in French dining — cheese deserves all of this and more. But do not let the fact that you don’t have these things stop you from basking in the happy glow of an expensive cheese. To really enjoy a good cheese you only need a few things:

• A paring knife: A good paring knife will successfully slice almost any cheese. For soft cheeses, a cool butter knife will also work.

• Crackers: You can absolutely eat cheese au natural, with no other accoutrements. But crackers can serve as a handy way to transport cheese (especially crumbly or soft varieties) from plate to mouth. Good ole’ Ritz are always a good complement (especially to particularly dry or salty cheeses); so are Trisquits (for creamy, soft or blue cheeses) and Wheat Thins or sesame crackers (most cheeses).

• Water with a twist of lemon or lime: Wine is great, don’t get me wrong. But for all cheeses — regardless of texture or flavor or your own personal wine preferences — a crisp, clean water helps clear the palate.

Choose your cheese

Cheeses come in an almost endless variety.

Cheeses, most commonly, are made from cow, goat or sheep milk. They can be from a variety of locations — New England, California and Europe being the most common. They can feature added flavors from herbs, peppers, mustard, wine, beer or fruit.

When cheeses are categorized, though, it’s usually done by texture.

• Hard — These cheeses are often low in moisture and slightly salty. Hard cheeses include parmesan, asiago and romano.

• Semi-hard — These cheeses are often aged (usually at least 18 months) and full of flavor. Semi-hard cheeses include cheddar, provolone, gouda and Monterey Jack.

• Semi-soft — Not spreadable but close, semi-softs can be fresh or raw milk cheeses. Semi-soft cheeses include Colby and Havarti.

• Soft — These cheeses are very soft and highly spreadable. Soft cheeses include boursin, brie and cream cheese.

Cheeses to search for

Here’s how cheese lust starts: you buy aged cheddar and chunk, not shredded, parmesan.

Then, you stop buying supermarket deli slices and start buying aged provolone for your sandwiches and brie instead of cheese spreads. Then you start to find types and textures of cheeses you like, pushing the envelope with each cheese purchase to find cheeses with unique flavors. Once you get over the price increase that comes with the dramatic increase in quality, you start to buy new and more exotic cheeses, trying varieties from Spain and France and those spring-fresh cheeses made of raw milk.

Of my more recent adventures at the cheese shops, here are some of the cheeses that will make even the cheese novice feel the love of cheese.

• Mahon: A creamy Spanish cheese, Mahon is smooth but sweet.

• Stilton blue: At some point this winter, everybody had Stilton with blueberries — a heavenly treat that mixed the salty sweetness of Stilton with the tart of blueberries. I can’t seem to find much of that anymore but the Stilton blues are just as cream and piquant.

• Pyrenese: Not quite spreadable but creamy and soft, this cheese has a slightly nutty sweetness.

• Dill Stilton: An orangey yellow — instead of the sometimes more common pale — Stilton, this one has the cool bite of dill to match the natural Stilton sharpness.

• Somerdale: A semi-soft Welsh cheese with mustard and ale, this mild cheese has a nutty flavor with a slightly mustardy finish.

Fromage Fort

The sad end of many a good chunk of gourmet cheese is that a too-big-to-eat, too-small-to-slice chunk will remain uneaten and slowly molding into nothing in the refrigerator. The French offer another way to get the most from each chunk of expensive cheese. I’ve seen this recipe in a variety of cookbooks and websites. This particular one comes from www.cooksrecipes.com.

1 pound assorted leftover cheeses, at room temperature

1/4 cup white wine

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons fresh herbs (such as thyme, sage, flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, marjoram, or basil)

1 clove garlic (optional)

Remove the rind, hard spots, and any mold from the cheese. Cut the cheese into 1/2-inch cubes, and grate any hard cheeses.

Combine the cheeses, wine, butter, and optional herbs and garlic in a food processor and blend until very smooth and creamy, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately or refrigerate for at least 1 hour if you would like a firmer consistency. The mixture can be kept for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups, serving 10 to 12.

Cheese on the road

There’s great cheese right here in our hometowns but why not make a day trip of finding new cheeses?

A recent issue of Saveur magazine devoted itself to the glories of American cheese. Here are a few of the cheeses on their top 50 list that you can visit in person. Like an explorer in search of gold, you can set sail for your cheesy treasure at these day trip locations.

Berkshire Cheese Makers, Great Barrignton, MA (blue cheese)

Cato Corner Farm, Coldchester, CT (blue, cheddar, Colby, Dutch and Italian cheeses)

Grafton Village Cheese, Grafton, VT (cheddars)

Great Hill Dairy, Marion, MA (blue)

Jasper Hill Farm, Greensboro, VT (raw milk cheeses)

Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm, Lyme, CT (aged and fresh cheeses)

Shelburne Farms, Shelburne, VT (cheddar)

Thistle Hill Farm, North Pomfret, VT (an aged alpine raw milk cheese)

Vermont Butter &Cheese Company, Westerville, VT (cow andWeekly Dish goat cheeses)

Vermont Shepard, Putney, VT (sheep’s milk cheeses)

Westfield Farm, Hubbardston, MA (goat and cow cheeses)

Woodstock Water Buffalo Company, South Woodstock, VT (water’s buffalo milk)

Cheese online

The love of cheese is shared by many. Here are a few websites where you can revel in cheese lust.

Cheese.com

The ultimate cheese resource, this site lists cheeses by country, name, texture and type of milk. The site also includes cheese recipes, storage tips, book titles and fun facts.

Cheese Reporter, cheesereporter.com

It’s a newspaper about cheese. Seriously.

Great Cheeses of New England, www.newenglandcheese.com

Focusing specifically on New England cheeses, this site lists cheeses made in New England, general cheese information, recipes, New England cheese sellers and upcoming area cheese events.

www.ilovecheese.com

The official website of the American Dairy Association, this site offers lots of recipes, nutritional information and tips for how to entertain with cheese plus information on a cheese of the month (this month: Monterey Jack).

Real California Cheese, www.realcaliforiacheese.com

Like wine, cheese is one of those products that California just knows how to do well. The site features cheeses, recipes and a dowloadable calendar of happy cows.

Where to get your cheese fix

Most supermarkets now offer a selection far beyond the trifecta of cheddar, mozzarella and American. But for a unique selection or harder-to-find varieties, check out some of these cheese sellers. Most will happily give you samples — cheese, after all, is an addictive substance. Once you get a taste, there’s little chance you won’t buy, 

A Market

Loring St., Manchester, 668-2650

This health food store puts special emphasis on fat-free and vegan cheeses.

Angela’s Pasta and Cheese Shop

815 Chestnut St., Manchester, 625-9544

Angela’s features a wide range of cheeses including harder-to-find French and Italian varieties as well as raw milk cheeses.

Bartlett Street Superette

316 Bartlett St., Manchester, 627-1580

Fitting with the other offerings at the market, Bartlett’s deli case features some Eastern European cheeses as well as a true delight — cheese babka.

Bull Run

1100 Hooksett Road, Hooksett, 669-0891

Offers a variety of gourmet prepacked cheeses.

Meat House

Route 101, Bedford, 472-6500

Brand-new location for special cuts of meat also offers gourmet cheeses.

Sausage Heaven

33 Elm St., Manchester, 606-6657

Sausage Heaven specializes in freshly smoked cheeses and Greek cheeses.

 

- Amy Diaz

 
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