Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Toast to Cheddar

Here's an empty glass. What are you going to pour into it to toast lovely Cheddar cheese?

For Americans this can be a difficult question to answer. More than any other swilling nation, we Americans can be hung up about what we should drink with certain foods. We seem to lack the confidence to choose for ourselves the appropriate potent potable. Believing that there is a scientific, knowable formula for pairing beverages with food, we seek advice from experts and books instead of just popping open a bottle of something and seeing whether or not we like it. I think this quest for the perfect food & wine pairing stems from our lack of enduring food traditions and from the immense variety of foods we have to chose from. We can't simply do what's always been done (e.g., as the English do with port and Stilton).

What we should keep in mind when pairing food with wine and other beverages is that it's all a matter of taste and that there are no steadfast rules or a correct body of knowledge. Instead we should try something on our own and then stick with (and up for) what we like.

As you'll see from this long list of what cheese experts pair with Cheddar, it's hard to go wrong:

Cabernet Sauvignon
Chenin Blanc
Late-Harvest Gewurztraminer
Pinot Noir
Sauvignon Blanc
Indian Pale Ale
Pale Ale
Oloroso Sherry
Ruby Port
Tawny Port
Tobermory Scotch
Ledaig Scotch
Hard Cider

It's ok if you want to learn how to increase your chances of a favorable pairing. If you do, I suggest Laura Werlin's, The All American Cheese and Wine Book: Pairings, Profiles, & Recipes, which I've finally just started reading. It's great, of course.

But don't wait until you've finished reading her book to pop open a bottle of something, fill your empty glass, and toast Cheddar!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Cheddar's Chunky Chums

Just who are Cheddar's chunky chums? Chutney and pickle, of course. They are standouts from the fine relish family.

On a sandwich these relishes make classic, satisfying pairings. When I say classic, I am referring to the British model for eating Cheddar out of hand. Those Brits like their cheese sandwiches either with thickly buttered bread or with a sticky dollop of chutney or tart pickle relish. When I was young and visiting relatives in the U.K., I opted for butter. To my young, American mind, the combo of Cheddar and chutney was just too bewildering and foreign.

Now as an adult, with a stint at Neal's Yard Dairy and a trip to India under my belt, I've come to embrace English relishes on my sandwiches. In fact, I had some for both lunch and dinner on Sunday, along with a cup of spiced Norwegian pumpkin soup and a glass of hard, local cider for lunch and a green salad with pecans and a bottle of ale for dinner. These meals were super fast, entailing nothing more than toasting the bread, melting the cheese, and reheating the soup which was left over from my Great Squash Sacrifice dinner the night before. Not bloody bad for a snowy Sunday!

Lunch on Sunday was particularly fast because it entailed reheating not only the soup but also my toasted cheese sandwiches. They, too, were left over from my squash supper. I had served them as an appetizer with boozy applejack cobblers, and they were the only dish—as hard as it is for me to tell and for you to hear—that contained Cheddar. More bruschette than sandwiches, they are slices of toasted Sicilian whole wheat bread, brushed with melted butter and pumpkin seed oil, topped with homemade pumpkin chutney (see Thanksgiving entry below) and cave-ripened Jersey Cheddar, and then toasted again until the cheese melts. (Note: I mean New Jersey, not the island in England, famous for its creamy Chanel Island milk!) I make this chutney each year at the end of November, and I think it's a lovely, seasonal companion for Cheddar. Spiced with nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves, it's kind of like pickled pumpkin pie, but in a good way. Of the relishes accompanying my Cheddar on Sunday, this was the one that most resembled the pickle by which to judge all pickles, Branston Pickle Relish. It's the Heinz ketchup of the British pickle world, and it's the common pickle for a ploughman's lunch or a cheese and pickle sandwich bought at a railway station. Branston's chunky bulk comes from diced cubes of rutabaga and a medley of other vegetables, so my chutney made from diced winter squash isn't far off.

Sunday's dinner entailed a little more work, but not much. I halved a Sicilian whole wheat roll, also left over from my dinner, and toasted each half. On one half, I spread ajvar and then topped it with thin slices of Cheddar, and on the other, I put the Cheddar directly on top of the roll, and then spooned on a pickle relish from Brooklyn, that I had planned to eat at Thanksgiving (again, see post below) after the cheese was nicely melted. The Brooklyn pickle certainly sounds classic, but the ajvar doesn't seem typical, does it? It's not British; it's a moderately chunky Balkan relish, made with red bell peppers, eggplant, garlic, and chili peppers. It doesn't have the zippy acidity of an English pickle or chutney, but it does have the sweetness along with a hint of heat. Acidity is usually a welcome counterpoint to the sweetness of Cheddar, but the ajvar emphasizes it, and the relish's silky eggplant complements the unctuousness of melted cheese. The mild heat prevents everything from going over the top. I must admit that I was mildly disappointed by the Brooklyn pickle, Wheelhouse Pickles' seasonal Ploughman's Pickle. Florence Fabricant of the New York Times billed it as the local, small production alternative to Branston, but it couldn't have been more different. There were no cubes of vegetables and no zip. It was kind of dull and flat and tasted or raw, poorly integrated spices. But atop the roll and melted cheese, it wasn't all that bad, proving that Cheddar can bring out the best in its chums.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Gobble Cheddar Gobble!

You'll notice that I don't have a turkey as my pictorial representation of Thanksgiving. That's because I am a vegetarian, and I won't be eating turkey on Thursday. But I will gobble gobble!

To make up for the absent turkey, I won't opt for a meatless substitute, like the mysterious tofuerky. Instead, I'll emphasize local, seasonal vegetables and prepare a veggie casserole as the main part of my holiday meal. The casserole will includes Cheddar, of course.

The reason Cheddar entered my Thanksgiving menu at age fifteen has everything to do with the Moosewood Cookbook. This was my first vegetarian cookbook after I read the influential Diet for a Small Planet. Rare is the dish in this iconic cookbook that doesn't call for a cup of Cheddar cheese. Moosewood hearkens back to the days when vegetarians were encouraged to eat complimentary proteins to ensure getting a complete one. So much for the purported benefits of a low-fat, low-calorie vegetarian diet! For its 10th anniversary, Mollie Katzen revised the Moosewood Cookbook, and after that, the recipes didn't call for nearly as much cheese, but I still like to cook the original Chilean Squash, but without the corn. I'm not going to skimp on the Cheddar!

Fearing that I was falling into a Thanksgiving rut, I broke free from Moosewood last year, and turned to my favorite cooking magazine, Fine Cooking, to find a new veggie casserole. The one I chose has a much longer name but almost the same amount of cheese: Butternut Squash, Apple, Leek and Potato Gratin with Cheddar Crust. It was really yummy, and I plan to make it again this year, along an apple pie with a Cheddar crust. We'll also have toasted Cheddar sandwiches one day for lunch, with a choice of my homemade spiced pumpkin chutney (which I fear I made too spicy this year), cranberry chutney from the Union Square farmer's market, and Ploughman's Pickle, made over the Pulaski Bridge in Brooklyn. I am looking forward to trying this seasonal pickle, which, I bought--horrible dictu!--at the beer room at the Whole Foods on the Bowery.

I shouldn't blame the Moosewood Cookbook for all this Cheddar. Cheddar, after all, is the perfect cheese for Thanksgiving. Like the Pilgrims and Puritans, Cheddar was originally English, but became decidedly American. And its sweet and nutty taste and lovely golden hue complement autumnal cooking. Eating Cheddar is like a walk in the woods in the fall, when the sun casts a soft glow on the the turning leaves, and acorns and horse chestnuts crunch under your heavy shoes.

Autumn and its pumpkins will be gone soon, so eat a chunk of Cheddar now!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cheddar for Charity

Hurry up! You have only two more days (November 19) to bid on Wedginald, the celebrity Cheddar. Proceeds from the eBay auction go to the charity, BBC Children in Need. To learn more about the auction, read this short Reuters article, and visit CheddarVision to make your bid or donate to BBC Children in Need. Good luck!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cheddar and Apples and Ale! Oh My!

I am doing another Cheddar talk. Please come!

Monday, November 26, 7:30 PM

Come on down to Jimmy's No. 43 and join Slow Food NYC's Amy Thompson and food historian Diana Pittet for a guided tasting of four farmstead Cheddars--Old World (Britain) and New World (Vermont and California)--accompanied by four varieties of apples from the Greenmarket and beers selected by Jimmy himself!

Jimmy's No. 43
43 E. 7th St, downstairs
(between 2nd and 3rd Avenues)

Tickets are $30 each, and reservations are required. To reserve a spot send an e-mail to Amy at

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cheddar's California Dreaming

Cheddar has traveled the world (as I noted in my first post), but there are some places where it lingered longer and put down solid roots. These places aren't a secret--like Vice President Dick Cheney's residence on Google Maps. They include, England, of course, the rest of the British Isles, the Antipodes, and North America. Within the US., Cheddar seems most at home in Vermont, New York, and Wisconsin, the states we equate with good Cheddar.

There are reasons why Cheddar settled in these areas of the U.S. To uncover them, we must go back to feudal England. According to Paul Kindstedt, a dairy scientist at the University of Vermont and co-director of the Vermont Institute for Artisanl Cheese, the major site of cheese production in England in the 16th & 17th centuries, after the collapse of feudalism and the rise of capitalist markets, was East Anglia. The local cheesemakers, many of them Puritans, were quite enterprising and made large, durable cheeses that could be transported safely to urban markets, like London. When these Puritans chose America as their promised land, they brought their cheesemaking know-how and keen marketing sense with them. Set up in the New World, they made cheeses like the ones they had produced back home across the pond. These cheeses were consumed locally and were also exported to the southern colonies and the West Indies, which grew cash crops and were short on food for themselves. It should be noted that before the arrival of Europeans in North America, there was no indigenous cheese production; there is no good evidence that Native American ate dairy products. As the Puritans moved about the New World, so did their Cheddar-like cheeses. They accompanied the Puritans when they sought deeper religious freedom (e.g., Rhode Island) and when they wanted more land after the Revolutionary War (e.g., New York). And they migrated further west through Ohio into Wisconsin, as the Puritans, or their descendants, went in search of even more land. It was there in Wisconsin that Cheddar seemingly met the western edge of its migration.

But Cheddar has become restless and has resumed its westward migration. California beckons. Perhaps the Golden State is a natural destination for Cheddar. They share the same sunny hue, after all. And Cheddar is a star. It plays the main role on CheddarVision. What video star doesn't want to try its luck and make it big in California? Maybe it was California's tourism ads, with charming Clint Eastwood and Mr. & Mrs. Schwarzenegger, that got the better of Cheddar. The more likely explanation is that California is a major dairying state. This may come as a surprise, since we think of Californian wine before we think of its milk. It makes sense that a dairying state makes cheese and that one of its chief cheeses is Cheddar, the cheese which competes with mozzarella for the title of most popular cheese in the U.S. California produces one-third of all Cheddar in the U.S., and one Cheddar producer, Hilmar, near Modesto, makes 1.3 million pounds of cheddar and American cheese (e. g. , Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, Colby, Colby Jack, and flavored Jacks) a day!

Very near Hilmar is a totally different operation, Fiscalini. This three-generation dairy farm only recently got into cheesemaking, as a way for the dairy to stay financially viable. With a name like Fiscalini (Swiss-Italian) and with a farm in the hot Central Valley, it wouldn't seem likely that Cheddar, an Anglo cheese with strong connections to the East Coast, would be the cheese of choice. But this is the cheese with which Fiscalini has made a name for itself. Their 30-month bandaged-wrapped cheese is so exceptional that it has even beaten traditional Somerset Cheddars in a blind tasting. And it was certainly a favorite at the Cheddar tasting I held at Princeton three weeks ago. It has a sweet profile that Americans like.

What is even more surprising than a farmstead Cheddar being made outside of New England is that the master cheesemaker at Fiscalini, Mariano Gonzalez, is from Paraguay, a country that is certainly not known for English cheeses, if it even registers in one's geographical consciousness. But it all makes sense when one learns that Mariano's first job was at Shelburne Farm in Vermont, known for its farmstead Cheddar. Here he honed his cheesemaking skills and became the master cheesemaker there, before returning to Paraguay to start his own Cheddar operation (which sadly failed because of a coup). When he came back to the States, the California Milk Marketing Board wooed Mariano to the Fiscalini. With his arrival at Fiscalini, under the shadow of Hilmar, traditional Cheddar went into production in California.

Through Mariano, the Puritans and their cheeses have finally made it to sunny California.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Grading Cheddar

So, how did Cheddar fare during its brief stint in night school? I am relieved to report that it passed. I wish I could say that it earned an A+, but it fell slightly off the mark, mainly because of me.

For the most part, I succeeded in achieving what I had planned for my hour-plus-long class at the Princeton Club of New York. I introduced the guests, about 25 of them, to the varied tastes of Cheddar from around the world, and I survived conducting my first cheese tasting. I also competently outlined Cheddar's long history, and I wasn't flustered by several self-important guests.

This is where I fell off the mark:
1. I am not sure I successfully explained why the guests should care about Cheddar and its history.

2. I didn't do a good job of showing the delicious differences between a mass-produced Cheddar and a farmstead/artisanal one. This fault may have rested more with the cheeses than with me. None of the five cheeses particularly impressed the guests. If one stood out favorably, it might have been the Fiscalini.

3. I forgot to ask the guests which of the Cheddars was their favorite. What a wasted opportunity!

4. I realized that I am not yet adept at identifying different Cheddars without some visual clues or labels. When I first arrived in my "classroom," none of the cubed cheeses, which were placed in separate piles on one plate, were labeled. I panicked that I couldn't tell them apart and that I was going to mislead my guests during the tasting. I could safely distinguish the musty Keen's and the caramel-ly Le Chevre Noir, but I wasn't at all sure about the other three, Isle of Mull, Fiscalini, and Cabot (Classic Vermont, Sharp). Thank goodness some labels finally appeared and rescued me!

This evening served as an excellent opportunity for me to see what the public wants to know about Cheddar, if anything. Here's a summary of their instructive questions: how much does each cheese cost, how should the cheeses be stored and for how long, how do the properties of milk differ among breeds of cows, why do you push the cheese to the roof of your mouth when tasting it, how can you tell a supermarket Cheddar from a supermarket Jarlsberg, what role does snobism play in assessing specialty foods, how is the pH level controlled during cheesemaking and how does its level affect the final product, how will cheddaring or stirring the curd create different tasting cheeses, and when will my book about Cheddar come out.

Despite not being able to answer the above questions fully, I felt confident with the material and in control of it and for that, I am much relieved. But I've got so much more to learn and master!

I want to thank both the Princeton Club of New York for inviting me to speak and for putting on such a well-run program and the food historian Francine Segan for recommending me to the club's program director, Wanda Mann.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ivy League Cheddar

Here's a description of my upcoming talk at the Princeton Club of New York, which members are paying $18 to attend. I hope it's worth their while! So far 30 or so people have signed up.

Cheddar Strikes Back:
The Rise, Fall, and Return of Traditional Cheddar
Cheddar cheese originated modestly and long ago as a local agricultural product in Somerset, England. Over the course of 800 years, Cheddar has become the most popular cheese type in the world, and its historical connection to England forgotten or overlooked. Food historian Diana Pittet will uncover Cheddar’s English origins and trace its globe-trotting travels to North America and to Australia and New Zealand. The Cheddar found in supermarkets is a far cry from the original farmstead product. This is in large part due to the industrialization of cheesemaking which began in Rome, N.Y., in 1851, and to the lack of regulations for using the name Cheddar. Unlike other world-class cheeses, its name was never protected, so almost any semi-hard, cow’s milk cheese can call itself Cheddar. Luckily, small cheesemakers throughout the world are preserving or reviving the traditional way to make Cheddar. During the course of Ms. Pittet’s talk, traditionally made Cheddars from around the world will be sampled.

Ms. Pittet has a master’s in food studies from New York University and is co-chair of the program committee of the Culinary Historians of New York. Described as “cheese possessed” by the New York Times, Ms. Pittet gave up her job teaching Latin in New York City to sell English farmstead cheeses at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. She wrote about the Americanization of English Cheddar for her master’s paper and has contributed to Oxford’s forthcoming
International Encyclopedia of Cheese.

I will be speaking about Cheddar again, but briefly and less formally, at the awesome alehouse hideaway,
Jimmy's 43, on Monday, November 26, at 7:30 p.m. My former food studies classmate, Amy, is organizing a tasting of Cheddars, apples, ciders, and ales, and she asked me, along with an apple expert, to say a little something.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cheddar Abuse

A confession: when I am not cheating on Cheddar, I am inclined to abuse it. I can be hard on the Cheddar.

My crime is storing Cheddar improperly. I am not 100 percent sure of the ideal way to store Cheddar at home--professional cheesemongers have slightly varying guidelines--but I am sure that whatever I am doing, it is wrong.

My first misstep is keeping Cheddar in the fridge, which is a hostile environment for cheese. Refrigerators are designed to suck the moisture out of everything, and this isn't good for cheese. Neal's Yard Dairy in London, where I worked for the Christmas season of 2000, recommends that semihard cheeses, like Cheddar, be stored in a cool, moist spot (not hard to come by in the UK!) like a garage or in a shoebox placed by a windowsill. I tried this once while staying with friends in London one November. They didn't have a garage, like most urban dwellers, so I put my precious stash of Somerset Cheddars outside on their windowsill, in a bag, not a shoebox. The next morning, my bag of cheeses was gone. Katie had to break the news that she and the children had spied a fox that morning, slinking atop their clerestory. She suspected that the fox had nicked my cheese. Outfoxed by a fox, I realized that I had gone too far by putting my cheeses outside on a chilly November night. From then on, I decided that the fridge, as deleterious as it may be, was the place for my cheese.

I further abuse Cheddar by storing it in plastic cling wrap. This isn't entirely bad; in fact, most cheese shops, even the good ones, use plastic wrap to wrap cuts of cheese. The plastic wrap prevents the cut surface of the cheese from drying out. But what the good cheese shops don't do is send you home with cheese wrapped in plastic. Cheesemongers wrap customers' slices of cheese in special waxed paper, like butcher paper, and then wrap the cheese they are left with in a fresh sheet of plastic. Plastic wrap isn't suitable for longterm storage. Impermeable, it doesn't allow the cheese to breathe, and it may maintain too much moisture, which can make a cheese die. Who wants dead cheese? Plastic wrap can also impart its unwanted flavor. And who wants plastic-flavored cheese? Waxed paper does the trick of allowing the cheese to breathe while maintaining a suitable amount of moisture. My problem with butcher paper is that I am disorderly, and I can't keep the paper neatly folded around my cheese. As a result, I end up exposing my cheese to the adverse environs of the fridge and the cheese hardens around the rind. Even when I did my stint as a cheesemonger, I couldn't expertly make origami-like folds with the butcher paper and therefore failed to present my customers with pretty packages of cheese.

My chief crime is that I keep the plastic cling wrap on for too long. If I didn't live alone or if I ate Cheddar at every meal, the cheese would be consumed quickly and would not succumb to the evils of longterm storage in plastic. But I do live alone and I try to eat cheese in moderation, mostly out of cheapness. Also out of cheapness, as well as mindfulness for the environment, I can't bring myself to unwrap my cheeses, throw away the plastic, and then rewrap the cheeses with plastic that I will soon throw out again. It just seems so wasteful. But what ends up being wasteful is ruining a fine piece of cheese.

I finally had to accept this contradiction (viz., by not wasting plastic, I was wasting cheese) when I returned to the States after a trip to Australia in January 2007. While in Oz, I made Cheddar at two dairies in Tasmania and bought a lot of Australian Cheddar. For two weeks, I kept my purchases in the bottom drawer of my friend's fridge in Melbourne, without changing the plastic. Cheese was on my mental back burner while I focused on the Australian Open. I would sometimes check in with my cheese, but I would just look at them admiringly; I wouldn't do anything to ascertain how they were faring. I naively hoped that they would hang in there until I got back to the States. I was wrong. When I did a cheese tasting with friends upon my return, I could tell that the flavor and textures of the cheeses had been compromised. One cheese even mysteriously picked up an unpleasant onion-y taste.

With ruined cheeses on my hands, ones that I had carried for over 10,000 miles to Queens, I vowed to follow proper cheese storage and stop the abuse. Here's my vow:

1. If I don't have access to a garage, I will keep my cheese in the produce drawer of my fridge. This is the least dry section.

2. I will keep my cheese securely wrapped in waxed cheese paper and will hone my paper-folding skills.

3. Once my waxed paper is too crinkled to fold anymore, I will loosely wrap my cheese in a light-weight plastic cling wrap. If my Cheddar has a traditional rind, I will leave it exposed to allow the cheese to breathe.

4. I will change the plastic wrap frequently, or buy only a small amount of cheese so I eat it quickly and won't have to keep it for too long in plastic.

Of course, the above procedure doesn't do you any good if your landlord accidentally opens your fridge and the door stays wide open while you are away in D.C. for a long weekend. I came back to sweaty, unhappy cheese, and I am sure I will have a frightfully high electricity bill. Talk about waste! But I suppose this is my punishment for years of Cheddar abuse.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Cheating on Cheddar

Until the autumn properly arrives and the sun's merciless heat is reduced to a lovely warm glow, I don't eat much Cheddar or even have much in my fridge. I tend to eat feta, which I buy from one of the many Greek delis in my neighborhood in Queens.

When I am sweaty and listless (like I am now, even though it's October), Cheddar seems too fatty and heavy, and its nutty sweetness too cloying. Feta, on the other hand, is refreshingly zippy and tangy. I crave it in green salads, which is often all I can face eating on humid, sticky nights. Joey Ramone may have eaten refried beans in Queens, but I want feta. It magically manages to add richness to a light salad without make it undesirably heavy. Maybe it's the salt, or the slightly lower fat content (6 grams versus 8.5 grams per oz of cheese). It's certainly feta's briny sharpness that I want as a counterpoint to the sweetness of fleshy watermelon chunks in a cooling salad of black olives, mint, tomatoes, and red onion. Too bad watermelon is now out of season even though it is still hot and uncomfortable.

Another cheese I dig during summer is fresh ricotta, the type from a deli, not a plastic container in the dairy section of a supermarket. Mark Bittman of the New York Times calls this "good" ricotta. This is the cheese I use when I want to eat something more substantial than a salad, like pasta, after a tough speed workout with my running team. Ricotta is not tangy or salty like feta, but it's light, and sometimes this is all you ask of your cheese. A favorite pasta dish with ricotta comes from one of Bittman's recipes, with fresh basil and sauteed zucchini.

Feta and ricotta are the cheeses of the Mediterranean, so it's not at all surprising that I crave them during the summer and that I avoid the cheeses of cooler northern Europe, like my beloved Cheddar. But I need to ask why Australia, a super hot country, has embraced feta but the U.S.'s own sticky South has not. Cheddar still rules down there. Think cornbread with jalapeƱos and Cheddar. Or grits with Cheddar. Or pimento cheese.

When is autumn finally going to come so I can happily eat Cheddar again? And stop sweating?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Celebrity Cheddar

Cheddar has been in the news.

Perhaps the coverage hasn't been on the same crazed level as stories about Paris Hilton or Beckham & Posh, but a certain wheel of Cheddar has reached celebrity status and found its way into big-time, popular news outlets (e.g., AOL , Yahoo, CNN, New York Times). What helped Cheddar tick along the AP wire is a still-active Web site, courtesy of the West Country Farmhouse Cheesmakers (UK), that shows a clothbound English Cheddar maturing in real time. Despite being likened to watching paint dry, CheddarVision has captured people's attention.

I believe--and hope--that the chief reason why a moldy wheel of cheese has generated so much media coverage, and has even received fan mail, is that in this fast-food age, when we are divorced from the true source of the foods we eat, people are fascinated by seeing the slow-- excruciatingly slow--process involved in making food that isn't produced on a massive scale in a factory. It's a novelty to see slow food.

I am pleased as a mouse with cheese that a story about Cheddar has made the news. The stories certainly helped me look less like a Cheddar-crazed person! But I am shocked, too, by the comments posted on YouTube in reaction to the video. A few people are utterly convinced that the video is fake and it's a stunt. The chief reason that they think so is their misconception that all cheese has to be refrigerated or it will spoil. This is wrong. Cheddar is aged at 50 degrees F, +/- 2 degrees, or at least this is the temperature at which the master cheesemakers at Fiscalini in Modesto, Calif., age their delicious clothbound Cheddars. A fridge's temperature is much lower that that.

Other folks posting on YouTube were disgusted by the mold. I didn't realize that fears and misconceptions about mold were still so strong. I guess I shouldn't be when most people buy their Cheddar (as well as factory-farmed chicken) neatly wrapped in plastic, with no signs of its production. And I shouldn't be surprised that no one, not even the ones who tried to call people on their mold phobia, didn't realize that the mold is chiefly exterior. The mold is on the cloth that wraps the large (almost 50 lbs) wheel of cheese. When the cheese is ready to be sold, the cloth will be ripped off, along with the mold, and all that will be left (unless some mold has found its way into a fissure in the cheese and caused some bluing--the same blue as Roquefort) is the complex taste of a cheese that the mold helped create.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Why Cheddar?

My first entry should address two questions: why Cheddar and why a blog?

If you discovered my blog because you are mad about cheese or you are an enthusiastic foodie, you must be thinking to yourself that there are plenty of other cheeses that I could or should devote a blog to. Why Cheddar, and why not a more "gourmet" cheese, like Camembert? The reason is that no other cheese has as rich and international a history as Cheddar. Cheddar has traveled the world and taken it by storm. It's the world's most popular cheese type. Camembert can't boast that. Cheddar is a jet-setter, keeping homes all around the world, just like a professional tennis player, who might own a Spanish-style villa in Florida to practice with the Williams sisters, an apartment in her hometown in Serbia to keep it real, and a residence in Monaco to avoid heavy taxes. This tennis player is so international and multilingual that one easily forgets where she's from. Likewise, Cheddar has so comfortably incorporated itself into the cuisines of the Anglophone world (chiefly,
the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the British Isles) that people forget its country of origin—England—and claim Cheddar as their own. Case in point, my friend who writes a wonderfully insightful and humorous blog from Berlin, lists Cheddar as one of the basic American foods that she misses in her new hometown. (I am sure she knows that Cheddar is English—she knows a lot about food. The point is that she regards the English cheese as fully American.) It's almost like an English woman in Berlin yearning for French Camembert.

So, why pollute cyberspace with another blog? Well, I want people to know about Cheddar's obscured history and to know more generally about how the foods we eat end up on our forks. The more we know about the food we eat, the wiser and healthier we are. And, from a more selfish point of view, Cheddar allows me to travel the world, from Tasmania to Modesto, Calif., and take you with me.