Saturday, October 25, 2008

Quesos Cheddar

In Poland I got the orange version oozing out of pierogi filled and topped with pumpkin seeds. In Germany solid slices of the tangy white stuff were wedged (by me) between slices of dense bread, also topped with pumpkin seeds. What form of Cheddar was waiting for me in Spain?

I was amazed that I found any at all. My first encounter, however, was not a promising one, and it did nothing to prove that Cheddar is the world's favorite cheese. Again, it looked as though the Dutch ones take that prize. Really thirsty from walking around Salamanca all morning long and into the afternoon, I was desperate for some water. Going against what I usually do, I went into a chain store in search of a bottle of water. Usually I would patronize a local shop, but they had all just shut for their siesta and I needed something to drink quick. Inside Carrefour, I tracked down the water, and afterwards checked out the cheeses that were available. There were two sections: the fancy one where someone sliced and weighed decent quality cheeses at your request, and the convenient one with packaged, pre-sliced cheese. To my dismay, Cheddar was only available in the latter section. And what sorry Cheddar it was, deep orange, like the yolks of organic eggs, and dry and flaky, like the corners of my mouth in the wintertime when I don't properly moisturize. In short, gross. The only thing that I found intriguing was that the slices of Cheddar came in two different sizes, the normal square shape like Kraft Singles, but also rectangles. These are meant for baguettes. How ingenious!

The only good thing about my foray into Carrefour was that I was now properly hydrated. But I was fretting about Cheddar. Was I wrong in believing that it's the world's favorite? How could it be when this French chain store, the world's biggest retail group after Wal-Mart, had such slim and grim pickings? This wasn't the case for the other foreign cheeses.

But, lo and behold, I found it at a vineria in Madrid, just when I had stopped looking. It was Saturday night and just before 1 a.m., late for me, but not for Spaniards. I was alone and feeling a bit awkward about it. I probably should have gone directly to bed after seeing "Burn after Reading," but I needed something to eat and it just seemed too pathetic to turn in when the rest of the city was out and about enjoying themselves. It wasn't as though  I had anything urgent to do the next day; I am, after all, unemployed. I had already been to one small bar, where I had a bad glass of rioja and a tosta (see picture for examples of tostas; picture was not taken by me) with honey, a chalky slice of warm goat cheese, and caramelized onions. By the time I got to the vineria, I really didn't need anything more to eat. I couldn't even finish my first tosta; I stashed the second slice in my totebag, a thrifty habit I've been embarrassing myself with during the past four weeks of travel (and most of my life). Needless to say, the tosta freed itself from the napkin which was poorly wrapped around it (by me) and nestled into my Spanish phrase book, now forever stained with an oil mark from the Bucheron. But I am a sucker for trying local foods that I haven't yet had. I was going to get a small fried thing to drink with what I hoped would be a better rioja, as I tried to make myself anonymous at the long zinc bar, but then I spied a tosta with Cheddar, Emmental, and smoked salmon. I felt it my duty to order it, even though images of a fatter me and a thinner wallet put up some resistance. As with the pieorgi in Warsaw, I can't say this dish did anything good for Cheddar. The bread wasn't toasted enough for the the melted cheese and soft fish, and, worse, it was like bad supermarket French bread. Oddly, one half of the toast was orange with Cheddar and the other half was white with Swiss. Having the two cheeses separated reminded me of an open-faced "grilled" cheese sandwich I had late at night at small dinner on Vancouver Island, when Sarah Jay and I arrived too late at the Sooke Harbor House from the ferry to have a world-class meal there. Dinner, instead, was at a log cabin in the damp woods. But I was in Madrid now, and I wondered what the kitchen was up to with this dish. Again, I wondered, Why Cheddar? And now a new question, And why Emmental? By ordering this dish, did I proclaim my Anglo-Saxon roots or did no one think anything about it? For the folks around me--a young, somewhat scruffy bunch for a white-tiled wine bar--perhaps Cheddar was just another foreign cheese.

World-class Cheddar, as it turns out, is available in Madrid at the cool and smart cheese shop, Poncelet, in the tony barrio of Salmanca. They've got both Montgommery's and the Isle of Mull from Scotland. I was so happy to find them. Montgommery's is perhaps my favorite cheeses in the world, and Mull is where I hope to make Cheddar next spring. Montgommery's is so exceptionally good that my host in Madrid, Javier, remembered the name of this cheese, which he sampled at Murray's in London, long after he had forgotten the name Poncelet, where he was told he could buy it. I bought him a modest 100-gram slice as a thank-you present. I hope he goes back to try the Mull.


msdeemc said...

hmmm, none of the food you describe sounds too appetizing!

Jessica said...

Buenos dias senorita! seems like your travels are going well despite the lack of (good) cheddar! Glad you have this blog and 'My Face' to keep in touch! I miss you!