Categories
cheese cheese lifestyle

Camping with cheese

If i could only give one piece of advice in regard to camp­ing cheese, it would be this: avoid ched­dar. the worst is the cheap, gener­ic ched­dar, which turns to moist, crumbly shag car­pet­ing after about 18 hours. when i was camp­ing in wash­ing­ton this sum­mer, i brought a pound of fan­cy wis­con­sin three-year ched­dar because i thought it would be dry enough to with­stand three or four days of hik­ing. wrong! the cheese expe­ri­enced a major mal­func­tion some­time dur­ing the morn­ing of day 2, and i mis­er­ably choked and gagged on it for the next week. the best camp­ing cheeses are the parme­sans and dry goudas. why didn't i bring them? who knows? it maybe had some­thing to do with the fact that i was wicked­ly hun­gover when i was shop­ping. there are some with­in the back­pack­ing com­mu­ni­ty who believe that the cheese argu­ment has been moot since the cre­ation of indi­vid­u­al­ly wrapped mozzerel­la sticks. i would like to point out that (a) i can't find any doc­u­men­ta­tion prov­ing that those sticks are actu­al­ly cheese and not some par­tial­ly hydro­genat­ed fac­sim­i­lie, and (b) they have this nasty, flac­cid, rub­bery qual­i­ty that is un-food-like and frankly repul­sive. as far as the best camp­ing cheeses: argen­tine parme­san is cheap and not too crumbly like its sis­ter the reg­giano. old ams­ter­dam is clear­ly packed with the sweet sweet sodi­um that i crave on the trail. any of the asi­a­go fam­i­ly are rea­son­able; i'm 'bout em, even if they're not as tangy or tasty as the oth­ers. remem­ber, avoid ched­dar. avoid it!

Categories
cheese

Flor di Capra

Flor di capra is an organ­ic, aged goat cheese from Italy. I bought it at the Rain­bow the oth­er week in part because I had some Capri­cious (organ­ic, aged goat cheese from Cal­i­for­nia) at home and want­ed to com­pare how they taste. Leslie par­tic­i­pat­ed in a sim­i­lar tast­ing last week at Buffy. Flor di Capra is very tasty, but it smells and tastes amaz­ing­ly like grass. It lit­er­al­ly taste how lying in a field of grass smells. And at the rind it tastes like dirt, the way grass at the root tastes of dirt. And the Capri­cious, as not­ed here else­where, tastes like salty sea air. This made me think a lot about the con­cept of ter­roir, and how I wish there was a word for this in Eng­lish, both because say­ing some­thing in French always makes it sound pre­ten­tious and stuck-up, as opposed to a sound and true prin­ci­ple, and also because the fact that there's no word for it in Eng­lish points to the fact that we don't think it's impor­tant. And it is. Isn't it a piece of basic com­mon sense that things taste like where they are grown, or made? If goats live by the ocean and eat grass that grows in salt air, and then their milk is made into a cheese that is then aged in a cave by that ocean, doesn't it make sense that it tastes like the salty sea in a creamy milk-based form?

Categories
cheese cheese lifestyle

Bacon

Now, I know that this is a forum for talk­ing about cheese, but I want to take a minute and talk about cheese's great friend, bacon. Bacon's role in the down­fall of many a veg­e­tar­i­an regime has been well-doc­u­ment­ed else­where, and that is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the recent arti­cle in Food and Wine about Cap­tain Bacon, which fea­tures a tour of arti­san smoke­hous­es with the man who owns the Grate­ful Palate, which fea­tures more than one kind of Bacon of the Month Club. Instead of hav­ing a book club, why don't we have our own Bacon of the Month club, where we eat bacon and dis­cuss its sub­tleties of fla­vor?

Categories
cheese cheese lifestyle

Rainbow Cheese Department

I would like to take back any neg­a­tive state­ments I may have made in the past regard­ing the Rain­bow Grocery's cheese depart­ment. It's a very good cheese depart­ment, with many cheeses I've only seen at Arti­san, like mimo­lette and Sal­ly Jack­son aged sheep's milk, wrapped in chest­nut leaves. On Sat­ur­day night there was a very friend­ly staff per­son behind the counter, ready to answer any ques­tions. And he gave us free sam­ples of mar­cona almonds, very tasty. I think my real prob­lem with the Rain­bow is not its cheese depart­ment but its sta­tus as a veg­e­tar­i­an col­lec­tive and how in oth­er places there would be an alter­na­tive to Whole Foods where you could buy bacon and lamb shanks or even a can of tuna for god's sake, but here in San Fran­cis­co there is no such place. Port­land, Madi­son, they all have Rain­bow-esque stores with MEAT. So it's not the cheese depart­ment per se, but shop­ping while sur­round­ed by peo­ple who don't even eat cheese, let alone bacon. I always feel like a major­i­ty of Rain­bow shop­pers don't even par­tic­u­lar­ly like food.

Categories
cheese

Lincolnshire Poacher

This is a raw-milk British cheese, firm and aged yet with a smooth, creamy tex­ture. Like George Clooney. Accord­ing to the folks at Arti­san Cheese, it has under­tones of smoky bacon and accord­ing to Doug (who also resem­bles George Clooney), it tastes real­ly good with beer. I think it has all those qual­i­ties and it also tastes like pineap­ple, which is kind of freaky at first, and com­bined with the under­tones of smoky bacon, makes it sort of the hawai­ian piz­za of the arti­san cheese world. The oth­er fun­ny thing about the Poach­er is that when Kat­ri­na and I sam­pled it, she thought the name meant Poach­er as in to cook in water, as opposed to ille­gal­ly shoot­ing some­one else's game. My ref­er­ences to Dan­ny the Cham­pi­on of the World, Roald Dahl's defin­i­tive text on pheas­ant poach­ing, didn't real­ly clear things up for her, either.

Categories
cheese

Spanish Idiazabal

I liked smoked cheese because it reminds me of the smok­ing destruc­tion often wrought by my favorite bas­ket­ball team, the Kansas Jay­hawks. Each win­ter, I ingest a healthy cross-sec­tion of smoked food — from Cyclone flambe to charred Soon­er, from grilled and skew­ered Mis­souri Tiger on a bed of greens to ten­der­ly fric­as­seed Corn­husker with a side of roast­ed Aggie. This spring's offer­ings were unusu­al­ly plen­ti­ful and tooth­some; dur­ing an epic late March week­end, I was treat­ed to slow-roast­ed Blue Dev­il a mere 48 hours before feast­ing upon seared Ari­zona Wild­cat. The Wild­cat, I must admit, was espe­cial­ly deli­cious con­sid­er­ing the cru­el, ter­ri­ble, ruth­less, unfor­get­table sur­prise grilling he had admin­is­tered on a leg­endary Jay­hawk team in the round of 16 in March 1997. In com­par­i­son to these smoky delights, Span­ish Idi­az­a­bal hard­ly mer­its men­tion. Yes, it is much nicer than many smoked Jacks and goudas that have uncer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly parad­ed through my lit­tle cheese draw­er, but still, com­pared to the deep, rich smok­i­ness emit­ted by a Kansas State Wild­cat torched by indis­crim­i­nate aer­i­al assault by Kansas guards, it might as well be Cheez-Whiz.

Categories
cheese

Cabrales

This cheese is reput­ed to be King of the Blues, edg­ing out Roque­fort for the title of the strongest, sharpest, most pun­gent blue cheese in the world. At the urg­ing of the nice lady at Arti­san Cheese, Kat­ri­na and I sam­pled the King on Fri­day. Cabrales is a dark, grit­ty gray in col­or, with bumpy veins of pur­ple-ish blue. It looks like grav­el. Sad­ly, it tastes much the same. Imag­ine grav­el on the side of a busy high­way, home to road­kill and trash. Eat­ing cabrales is like hav­ing your taste buds molest­ed by an old man. The feel­ings of repul­sion and dis­gust take years to go away. Cabrales is a cheese that lingers on the palate. 20 min­utes lat­er there will be some entire­ly new nasty taste in your mouth. No me gus­ta.

Categories
cheese

Farmer Steve's Goaty Cheese Spread

After a long sun­ny Sun­day spent assem­bling bee hives and run­ning, I sam­pled Slide Ranch Steve's lat­est cheese effort, a tangy, salty cheese spread made from adding ren­net to the milk of Slide Ranch goats. Most farmer's cheese is made with archa­ic meth­ods that often require a bit of brute force. For instance, I often made cheese by heat­ing up a few gal­lons of goat milk on a rick­ety old gas stove and adding a bunch of vine­gar just before it boiled. This method works, sort of, but you get what you pay for. The milk heats uneven­ly, so you waste lots of curd; the milk on the bot­tom often burns, mak­ing it taste, well, burnt; and the milk near the bot­tom gets too hot and makes the rest of it taste sour. Steve made his by adding ren­net to fresh goat milk and then spic­ing it with a lit­tle salt and chili pow­der. The result: a safe, sat­is­fy­ing cheese that would nev­er, ever offend. Meg Ryan in cheese form. Fluffy, creamy, easy-going. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed on nacho chips. Best enjoyed dur­ing the late after­noon of sun­ny, breezy Sun­days while sit­ting on rus­tic cab­in porch­es. Absolute­ly must be eat­en while drink­ing Black Butte Porter.

Categories
cheese

Tomme d'Abondance (French raw milk)

All those froofy-sound­ing French gruy­eres tend to inspire patri­ot­ic dis­gust for the very sin­cere self-impor­tance of every­thing French, even though they rarely dis­ap­point, taste-wise. My prob­lem with this gruyere is that it demands too much from me. I look at it in my lit­tle cheese draw­er, and it prac­ti­cal­ly demands that it be served in a par­tic­u­lar way, at a par­tic­u­lar time of day, with a par­tic­u­lar atti­tude, on a par­tic­u­lar plat­ter: "Eh! Mon­sieur! You're not going to slice me on zis cut­ting board, are you? The one on which you just sliced zat apple?" Umm, yeah, I didn't buy you so that you could make me feel inad­e­quate. What is pre­vent­ing me from grat­ing you into a fine pow­der and feed­ing you to the yap­py Amer­i­can mon­grel with which I live? Eh? Eh? In any case, I some­times appre­ci­ate the extra work involved in mak­ing this cheese hap­py. So what if it doesn't go well with Lagu­ni­tas Dog Town Pale Ale and MTV 10-Spot shows?

Categories
cheese

Dutch Parrano

This cheese is the When Har­ry Met Sal­ly of high-end cheese — white-bread, straight-for­ward, and ade­quate­ly sat­is­fy­ing for 63% of men and women between ages 27 and 46. You can bring it to a din­ner par­ty full of strangers, and sat­is­fy both the cheeserati and the cheese-obliv­i­ous. You can also men­tion its name at that same din­ner par­ty, and have an ade­quate­ly inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion per­haps punc­tu­at­ed by mild wit­ti­cisms and/or mediocre analo­gies. Many of us may have a soft-spot for Dutch Par­ra­no, and we may be ashamed of it. But at the same time most are quick to point out its unde­ni­able — though not over­whelm­ing — strengths. It's pleas­ant­ly salty. It nips at the tongue, slight­ly. One can place it on a fan­cy crack­er, or a melt it inside a que­sadil­la, or eat it by itself. It doesn't mind. It's easy. Some­times, we like easy things. Dutch Par­ra­no reminds us that it's okay to like easy things, and to freely dis­cuss them with strangers, and to save our ener­gy for the more chal­leng­ing things, like com­pli­cat­ed, demand­ing French cheeses that have been aged in caves.