The list of things I enjoy but have no understanding of could form an unbroken string of topics stretching from the sidewalk on St. Paul up to our 21st floor offices. Organized alphabetically, the list would start with alchemy and bootlegging and progress through cheese making, juggling, string theory, sexual astrology, and water births.
As a Sagittarius (thanks for asking) it’s in my nature to want to understand how stuff works, and yesterday seemed like as good a day as any to flex that compulsion and start my exploration into those bulwarks of bacteria: artisan cheeses.
I started my education at Scardello, the luscious Uptown microcosm where warm and welcoming in-house epicure Emily walked me through a primer intended to hold me over until I could attend their next Cheese 101 class on Oct. 21.
Let the record show that I’ve sung odes to fine cheeses from Bruges to The Black Sea, but my applied knowledge of cheese comes to a grinding halt somewhere around Camembert. So when Emily presented me with a 13-item tasting slate and sat down with me to explain not just the provenance of each cheese but the proper method for consuming each bite (press it to the roof of your mouth and exhale), I decided it would be a good idea to start taking notes.
Within one hour I tasted the following:
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St. Foin Camembert (from the edge of the forest of Rambouillet outside Paris)
Brillat Savarin triple cream (referred to as the “ice cream” of cheeses for its creaminess)
Leonora goat’s milk cheese (a bright, lemony, alpine-goat number from Spain)
Rolf Beeler Gruyere (firm and sweet with hints of grassy alpage, meaning that the milk is taken only during months when the cows graze on alpine wildflowers and grasses)
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar (raw with 10 months of aging under its belt)
Hooks 10-year Aged Cheddar (Best in Show at 2006 American Cheese Society Show)
Pecorino Ginepro (aged in juniper berries and possessing a balsamic and olive oil-rubbed rind)
Zamorano (the gamey, salty more attractive brother of manchego)
Clisson (a mildly stinky washed-rind French goat cheese with a rind that tastes like peanuts)
Epoisses (a pungent, long-finishing, unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese washed in Marc de Bourgogne, a brandy-like drink made in Burgundy from grape-pressing residue)
Caveman (a fruity bleu cheese with buttery texture and the slight crunch of calcium crystals)
Bleu d’Auvergne (pungent, grassy, herbaceous excellence)
Parmigiano Reggiano Bonati (a cheese that takes four knives and 10 minutes to cut and pairs amazingly well with dried pineapple)
My favorite ended up being the contender I expected to like the least: the stinky, runny, salty Epoisses. I found out later that I am in good company as the famous epicure Brillat-Savarin classed it as “the king of all cheeses.”
Clearly, this hour with Emily was merely a loosening of the lid, a generous introduction to what will surely become a long-term relationship between a cardiologist, an angiogram, and my arteries.