What am I wearing? Pink Poodle beret by Eugenia Kim.
A brief history of my coming of age in the world of cheese. Growing up, I have fond memories of strolling down swanky Austin Street, the shopping thoroughfare of Forest Hills, Queens, with my mom. We frequented the cheese shop, which had a spectacular array of cheeses from around the world. I will never forget the pungent and unforgettable smells of all the cheeses beckoning to me from behind the counter. My mother made her weekly purchase, Swedish Fontina, a mild cheese perfect for school lunches and grilled cheese sandwiches. I merrily toted the Swedish Fontina in my Wonder Woman metal lunchbox to school daily.
My teenage years, in my world according to cheese, were unremarkable due to my mother’s preference for the mundane. Once we moved to Northern New Jersey, choices were limited. Norwegian Jarlsberg, a nondescript rubbery cheese, sported more holes than a woodpecker on meth could bore into an oak tree. Until this day, I hold this cheese in utter contempt and use it as an adjective for banality. For example, “ewww, did you see her outfit ? Soooooo JARLSBERG!”
My college years were distinguished by Kraft Easy Cheese spray in a can. Simply squirt in the mouth or make swirls on your fave Triscuit. Cheap, portable and easy to store, this can of processed cheese spray was perfect for college kids. Easy Cheese can spray was my sustenance while I sketched and worked feverishly on projects, British music blasting in my headphones. A few squirts in my mouth kept me chugging along. I even used this spray can cheese in an artistic tribute to my alma mater, evidenced by empty cans of Kraft Easy Cheese spray.
Once out of college and in the real world, I gravitated towards fine European cheeses. My preferences became increasingly sophisticated and expensive. The mom and pop cheese stores of the past were harder to find and supermarkets began discovering the specialized niche of gourmet cheeses. Additionally, we have seen an explosion in the American family run artisanal cheese market. I am very proud of the fact that the American cheese market competes against the Swiss and French producers and wins world-wide accolades.
Living in New York’s Hudson Valley affords me great access to a bevy of cheeses. New York, considered a dairy state, is home to niche boutique cheese farmers. Old World Market in Nyack, NY, a family owned market, is a shop I like to frequent on account of their diverse cheese selection.
To help me make my cheese choice of the week, I like to grab a fresh baguette and do some “Baguette Curls”, a form of exercise I devised. If I do 3 of 10 sets with each arm before I greet my cheese monger, I reward myself with a half pound of my fave cheese of the moment.
What am I wearing? Houndstooth beret by Eugenia Kim. Ombre Tunic by A Place under cashmere turtleneck, vintage lucite necklace.
By then I work up an appetite and ask my cheesemonger for the latest recommendations. Here are some choices which I consider part of a well curated cheese menu:
1. Humboldt Fog® Cypress Grove Chevre– is an award winning soft, tangy ripened goat cheese from Arcata, California. Forget the cheese knife with this one. I prefer to bite into it like an apple much the same way a hobo in an apple orchard grabs his/her bounty.
2. Jersey Girl cheese-Is she strutting down the mall on a Saturday night with black eyeliner, coated in an uneven, thick film of spray-tan, and big teased hair? Is she sophisticated, hailing from Hoboken or a hip-hopper from Saddle River? Nope, this cheese is made by the Cooperstown Cheese Company of Milford, NY. Jersey Girl is a raw milk cheese from 100% grass fed Jersey cows. A Jersey girl with a New York dream!
3. Roquefort Société – a sheep’s milk blue cheese from the village of Roquefort sur Soulzon, France is a creamy, yet crumbly cheese marbled with blue-grey veins of mold and a punch of tang.
Once I get home I like to lay out my selection on one of my cherished cheese trays. Presentation is EVERYTHING, so please trash those paper plates. I also like to put on a chapeau that pays tribute to the full bodied living culture that enters my mouth. And one more thing – always, always, always wrap and store cheeses in PARCHMENT PAPER. I promise you that the artisanal cheese you purchased will remain true to its nature for days.
I read a recent article in the New York Times: “In the Dairy Case, Ripe Prose” cheesemongers vying in writing clever prose to describe the virtues of each cheese. The prose, printed onto each cheese sign, helps entice the buyer to the merits of each cheese. The competition of signage is becoming fierce; many literary and cultural allusions are used to paint a hilarious picture of indescribable taste.
The prose, which is clever, humorous and outright funny, can be found in shops such as Bedford Cheese Shop, Fairway Market and Gastronomie 491.
My favorite sign resides at Bedford Cheese Shop and describes the “Mastorazio, Madai” in this way:
“The Lindsay Lohan of the cheese world, this pecorino has a tan, leathery exterior that surrounds a delicate yellow paste. With hints of herbs and the aroma of hay, you can almost hear the bleating of Lindsay up in the Italian hills. Pair with nicotine, Red Bull and an alcohol monitor.”
Yes, people are very passionate about cheese. It can bring out the nerd and snob in us all.
One final thought on cheese. Low-fat and low-sodium have no place in a cheesemonger’s lexicon. Low fat cheese is as appealing to me as eating Dr. Scholl’s® orthotic inserts in my Miu Miu glitter sneakers with a side of table salt.
Please don’t skimp on fat, just eat in moderation and savor every darn moment of heavenly, creamy flavor. And….. make it laaaaaaast.