Light is seeping fast out of the shortening days, spectacular days are so short, overcast days have twilight at noon. This is the time of year my father died, making the dark days darker. Little birds fleet over the cold landscape, escaping the hungry eyes of the buzzards who wait on the telegraph poles. The deer get more and more inventive about how to get into my vegetable garden (what about a now 7 foot high electrified fence with a proximity alarm don’t they understand - it feels like we are training them to steeplechase).
Originally published in culture's winter 2010 issue
One of the UK’s biggest newspapers, the Daily Telegraph, recently ran a short column titled, “Blessed Are the British Cheesemakers.” Having tasted many cheeses from Britain, I was prepared to cheer the essay based on the title alone. My goodwill quickly deflated, however, once I read the first paragraph. The writer—award-winning journalist and editor Clive Aslet—started his homage to British cheesemakers by first trampling on American ones, claiming, “I couldn’t live in the [United States] because of the cheese. America seems unable to cope with this most glorious of foods, both a staple which fills the sandwich and a luxury that enchants the epicure.”
Ask anyone who will admit to knowing me: I'm an enthusiastic omnivore. But I'm also an enthusiastic host, with a lot of vegetarians on my roster. This has necessitated some off-the-cuff veggie cooking in the past, especially around ThanksG., when I'm apt to drag various castaways over to my folks' place for dinner. Mom and Dad seem to enjoy the company, but it falls to me to feed the meatless masses.
This has proven to be pretty easy, actually; the holiday is a good excuse to go over the top with rich and savory flavors, especially if you're looking for a main dish to replace turkey*. Pies work really well for this purpose.
Something big happened in 2010. It's the original kitchen table issue; the food that goes on that table. At homes and in restaurants everywhere, meals with mysterious origins are being replaced by food that has a direct to the dirt it came from pedigree. Economic handwringing, the prospect of the US population's girth expanding beyond our landmass, even give-it-a-name-so-we-can-call-it-a-fad punditry failed to put a dent in the steady drumbeat of demand for good food. Cheese, of course, is the essence of good food. No fuss, no frills, just food at its best.
Although winter is finally upon us here in Boston, I was struck with the urgent and somewhat inappropriate desire for ice cream after working the lunch shift. I felt awkward about this quest, considering the weather, and was not surprised to find myself alone in the shop. I got myself a GIANT cone (with chocolate sprinkles), and took a seat to gorge myself and watch the world go by. Here I discovered the not-so-secret role of ice cream on a November day.
As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, I have been thinking about the role of cheese in this traditional feast. It’s a particularly heavy late-afternoon repast with nearly every type of food one can imagine: turkey with gravy, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, roasted squash, cauliflower, chestnuts, parsnips, carrots, various high-starch side-dishes, including all sorts of potatoes, and, of course many different pies, like sweet potato pie and pumpkin pie. The list seems endless. At the end of this culinary hedonistic celebration, who has an appetite for a cheese course? I certainly don’t.
Being the cheese enthusiast that I am, it’s impossible to imagine a feast of gastronomic pleasures without fromage. However, the absence of a dedicated course does not mean that cheese isn’t part of the feast. Indeed, in dishes, like chestnut soup, acorn squash puree, and pumpkin dip, cheese hardly takes a backseat role.
In my last blog, I talked about what it is to be a cheesemonger, one of the more loved (and laughed at) titles that I've ever had the pleasure of using in my professional life. This blog, as promised, is about the difference between a cheesemonger and a cheesemaker. Based on the question I get often ("What kind of cheese do you make?"), I am sure that it must be made clear that these things are NOT the same.
Quite simply, a cheesemonger sells cheese. A cheesemaker makes cheese. And that's really the difference. One is there at the birthing and the other is there just prior to the hand off to the happy cheese consumer.
But there is more to say on this because they are interdependent folks and need each other to survive. Without the cheesemaker, the cheesemonger has nothing to sell. Without the monger, the maker is in serious trouble. Mutual respect and a healthy, in depth understanding and communication with one another is what leads to success for each profession.
We have a winner for the annual Scary Dairy contest!
First prize goes to Anonymous for her horrifying "cheese pockets" fantasia.
Anonymous wins the full sack of treats, generously donated by BelGioioso: A wedge of their Parmesan, which took 1st place at the 2010 World Cheese Contest, a piece of blue veined Gorgonzola, and a pack of Fresh Mozzarella Pearls—
"Each ball is 2.5g and is perfect for a healthy snack, topping pizza, salads and pasta. This convenient package has no water mess and additional shelf life."
16 Novembre 2010
I’m getting my Italian on, as is evidenced by the very authentic manner I have written the date above. But I am also experiencing something a little deeper, a sort of “marriage of two cultures” going on here, and I’m feeling it deep in my soul. Perhaps it is all the testaroli here in Luigiana that have me all a-flurry. A familiar texture with holes throughout the surface, an excellent range of uses, a history of accelerated migration fueling its creation… The most authentic and micro-specific product from Luigiano/Pontremoli, Testarolo is actually unleavened bread!
Testarolo (the fresh flatbread-like form) or Testaroli (plural, or when cut into pasta squares and served with sauce) is indeed the original unleavened bread, cooked in a Testi, aka, wrought iron fry pan. The shepherds would carry the heavy pans on their backs and use them to cook while crossing the mountains and having no time for yeast to rise. Sound familiar?