Many people would claim, for the sake of appearances, to love their spouse, children, parents or friends more than they love cheese. In the interest of total transparency between us, dear reader, I must tell you that its a tough call for me. My husband, or a really good, imported Parmaggiano Reggiano, aged and crystalline to the tooth? My son, or a fragrant chunk of Stilton? Let’s just say, for now that I’m working it out and I’ll get back to you.
Lately we have started a tradition of “French Saturday Lunch” which means that while we are doing our grocery shopping on Saturday morning I buy a fresh baguette and about three different cheeses. We later eat chunks of the fresh, crusty bread smeared with cheeses in some glorious, freestyle rotation, along with sliced apples or grapes. The meal would be complete (and more French) with the addition of a good pate, but I haven’t quite persuaded the boys yet that its safe and acceptable to eat anything that was ever someone’s liver.
When choosing the cheeses, I follow an unscientific and probably uncool set of rules: no two cheeses from any single country, at least one soft cheese, and a mix of mild and sharp flavors. There are certainly more daring cheese than those in my typical selection, but many are unpalatable for my dining companions; Sam is just not ready for Limburger, and I’m not sure his father is. There are also issues of selection; our grocery store aspires to becoming cosmopolitan, but this is no Dean & Deluca we’re talking about. Zingerman’s is only an hour away, but that’s a long drive for cheese on a busy Saturday. I make do with what I can get.
Today’s selection was typical: a French Port Salut, a Danish Saga and an English Applewood Smoked Cheddar. The Port Salut is creamy and relatively mild with a little tang, and transcends all previous understandings of goodness when spread onto a slice of apple. The Saga is a compromise between Blue and Brie, which gives the grownups among us some blue-veined salt and acidity while backing away from the full-bore “foot cheese” ambiance of a Stilton or Roquefort.
The apple(wood) of my eye, though, the cheese for which I would fight wars and rend my garments is the smoked cheddar. Its cheddar as you know it, but with a smoky flavor and the smokiness of the paprika. It is rich and smooth and complex and not only a thing of beauty on a slice of bread but truly fantastic in macaroni and cheese. Its expensive macaroni and cheese, but if I were preparing a meal to make a man love me, or to achieve some sort of precarious international detente, I would definitely make macaroni and cheese with Applewood Smoked Cheddar and some sort of salad involving very crisp, tart apples and nuts. I am swooning.
There are other cheeses that I love: really good Brie or Camembert, Manchego (usually my “hard cheese” choice), Wensleydale, Red Leicester, any goat cheese, a nutty chunk of Edam, Fontina, Derby, Feta, Gouda (smoked or not), Asiago, Gorgonzola, Provolone, and good American cheese like Vermont Colby, Iowa’s Maytag Blue or a Maine Teleme. There are a few cheese I don’t like, most of which fall into the categories of “Swiss” or “Processed.” I happily eat Swiss Cheese and its many relatives cooked into various dishes and melted on sandwiches, but I do not eat it “plain.” As for the other stuff, Processed American Cheese Food, it has its place, and that place is in spray cans and on McDonald’s cheeseburgers.
If I am ever sent to rehab (“no, no, no”) or prison, it will undoubtedly be an unfortunate consequence of my cheese addiction. If you really care about me, you will smuggle in some Maytag Blue and not bother with files, knives or a fifth of vodka. If loving cheese is wrong, I don’t want to be right.