Wednesday, March 22, 2023 Mar 22, 2023
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CHEESE : Gouda news


There is a reason wine-and-cheese parties have lost their cachet: too many office parties and low-budget gallery openings offering cheap wine and even cheaper cheese, chosen with no regard for what complements what.But the wine-and-cheese concept still has life in it; it’s just that it’s been brutalized of late. Two tactics will help save such a gathering from being a Seventies cliche: 1. Give some thought to your choices; 2. spend some money. If you’re going to be chintzy about this, you might as well give up and have a straightforward BYOB gathering with you supplying only the Granny Goose Hawaiian Potato Chips. (Better an honest potato chip than an ersatz Emmanthaler.)Talk to cheese shop personnel or read a book about cheese and you’ll hear suggestions along the lines of choosing an assortment, including a mild, firm cheese (Fontina, Gruyere); a Cheddar cheese; a marbled cheese (Gorgonzola, Roquefort); and a soft-ripening cheese (Brie, Camembert). That’s the standard advice. But think back to the last cheese board you saw at a party. Brie and Camembert are the cheeses people wipe out first, so why not simply accept the unswerving nature of human preference and plan around it? Try a red wine and Brie and/or Camembert party, then. No one will argue with your choice of cheese-something about these lush and expensive cheeses seems to compel people to consume them posthaste. During the past few years, red wine has often suffered from the mindless “I’ll have a glass of white wine” syndrome-all the more reason to serve it. Nothing tastes better with Brie and Camembert than good red wine. I favor Burgundy or a Bordeaux red; wine writer Andre Simon recommends light red wines such as Medoc, Beaujolais and Touraine. Investigating California equivalents would be a good idea since most literature about cheese has not caught up with the California wine explosion.

To make this party work, you’re going to have to be resolute. Just keep repeating to yourself that single-mindedness in pursuit of something good is never a fault. Cocktails and this kind of cheese are totally incompatible; therefore, I recommend that you simply not make mixed drinks available.

If you want to have a nonalcoholic option, tart apple cider is the best choice. (In Normandy, apple cider and Camembert are a traditional pairing.)

Specializing to this extent has the fringe benefit of being pragmatically educational. There are hundreds of varieties of cheese; randomly bumbling through them is madness. Narrowing your exploration to Brie and Camembert allows you to compare the genuine Gallic items with imitators from this country and others. American versions are not to be scorned, since foreign cheeses suffer so much in transport. (Brie and Camembert are delicate products, requiring, and seldom receiving, careful handling.)

Since both cheeses are naturally fermented, their creamy interiors are protected by a thin crust. The very essence of their charm -the textural contrast of firm crust and yielding center -is also a practical drawback. Their point of readiness is a fragile, evanescent thing. What is underripe one day will be perfect the next and on the road to overripeness the next.

The crust of true French Camembert is usually golden; the crust of American Camembert is white, shading into off-white. (Different molds are used.) Domestic Camembert may never reach the glorious heights of a perfectly ripe Gallic product, but is more consistent and less expensive.

Ripeness is the key in experiencing these cheeses at their best. If not ripe, the center of the cheese will be caky white and harder than the outside perimeter. If slightly overripe, a bitter taste is the tip-off. If extremely overripe, you won’t have to put too fine a point on it; the ammonia-like greeting of unwrapped Monsieur Cheese will nearly knock you over. You are well within your rights to take any too-ripe cheese back to where you bought it.

In a cheese shop, you rely on the expertise and ethics of the merchant to prevent such an occurrence. At the supermarket, Brie and Camembert usually come wrapped in foil and packed in semicircular, date-coded boxes. Since these cheeses are, in my experience, invariably overripe by the date on the package, I would pick a box with the latest date possible. (Some scrabbling toward the back of the dairy case is helpful; older products are nearly always kept in front – the better to be chosen by hasty shoppers.)

Some manufacturers try to avoid ripeness problems by producing a canned cheese that can be kept indefinitely. These, unfortunately, always taste peculiar and have the unpleasant aftertaste of evaporated milk.

Though I prefer the more-assertive taste of Camembert, Brie is definitely the winner in terms of sheer visual appeal. Camembert comes in prosaic small rounds; a wheel of Brie is large (usually about 10 inches across), white, round and thin – like a captured moon, if you’re feeling poetic; like a pancake, if you’re not.

Which is not to discount the taste. Viv-ienne Marquis and Patricia Haskell describe it in The Cheese Book as “part mushrooms, part cream, part cognac, part earth… with a shade of truffle and with something of the scent of ripe Anjou pears.” And then there is the texture -satiny smooth, the consistency of heavy honey.

Of French Bries, Brie de Meaux is the aristocrat. Domestic Bries from California, Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois can be very good and are worth testing. Avoid, however, prepackaged Danish Brie, which is sadly lacking in flavor and texture.

Buying a whole 6- to 8-pound Brie is an expensive proposition; you need to know and trust your cheese shop. And don’t make plans for leftover Brie. Chances are it will be ravaged by your guests, but don’t hold it against them. Leftover Brie is about as useful as leftover champagne.

If you are buying cheese in any quantity at all, you should be able to taste a bit of it before purchasing. This is for more than economic reasons; as Marquis and Haskell note, “The buyer who experiments with a new cheese and is sold a poor one will probably never try it again. He may indeed believe that that’s the way the cheese should be, and he may wonder what other people can possibly see in it and whether his own taste is somehow deficient for not being able to appreciate it too.”

For a party, you’ll want at least three-fourths of a pound of cheese per guest. You’ll also want something to accompany the cheese. For Brie and Camembert, French bread is an obvious and good choice. Crisp English water biscuits provide a nice contrast to the creamy cheeses. (The Cheese Shop sells them under its own label.)

Butter with these ultrarich cheeses may seem a ridiculous excess, but some people will not eat unbuttered bread. Unsalted butter is preferable.

Second only to ripeness in importance is the temperature at which you serve the cheese. Allow a couple of hours for the cheese to come to room temperature before serving.

There are several readily available books about cheese, none of which is as valuable (or as hard to find) as The Cheese Book by Vivienne Marquis and Patricia Haskell (Fireside, $3.95). It’s worth the search, though. The book includes a lot of cheese lore and history, which may or may not interest you. It is accurate and witty, with thorough descriptions of what cheeses taste like.

If all this is too rich for your blood, consider a beer-and-cheese party instead. Two kinds of cheese traditionally accompany beer: strong cheeses and Cheddars.

I don’t have much to say about the first group, since I never met a strong cheese I liked. For the record, they include Lieder-kranz and Limburger.

But Cheddars are another story. The English have always known that beer and Cheddar are natural companions, referring to Cheddar as “the cut-and-come-again cheese.”

However, the mild product familiar to most Americans is a far cry from the original. In fact, if you haven’t been to England, you haven’t had real English Cheddar, since -to the American dairy lobby -it is illegal to import it here.

True English Cheddars, aged up to two years, are surpassingly rich, sharp and full-flavored; they are best eaten by themselves, without bread or crackers. But younger Cheddars -which are the ones generally available in this country -are made even better by good whole-grain bread and butter. If you choose crackers instead, be sure that they are the unsalted variety, since Cheddar has a high salt content.

Canadian Cheddar is legally available, usually in 5-pound wheels, and it is of reliably fine quality. Another premium Cheddar is produced in New York State: Herkimer County Cheddar, which has a distinctive crumbly, dry texture. Wisconsin Cheddars are widely available, and vary accordingly. Vermont Cheddar is recognizable by its pale, almost-white color and extremely sharp taste.

Color in Cheddar depends on how much annatto (a presumably harmless vegetable dye) the manufacturer decides to add. In cheeses such as Vermont Cheddar, none is added; in those such as the Longhorn Cheddar at your local supermarket, a lot is added to achieve the almost-fluorescent orange deemed necessary for eye appeal.

Some specific advice about supermarket Cheddar: Kraft’s Cheddars are better than might be expected. I recommend the gold foil-wrapped sharp. In my experience, the silver-wrapped mild has very little taste, and the red-wrapped very sharp is bitter.

The bitterness that is characteristic of badly aged Cheddar is what makes many people think they don’t like sharp Cheddar. Bitterness may result from the pasteurization process. Therefore, raw milk Cheddars, available in health-food stores, are a good bet.

The following shops come recommended by cheese cognoscenti:

The Cheese Shop, 68 Highland Park Shopping Village. 521-1731.

The Cheese Shop. Prestonwood Town Center, Suite 2032. 233-9964.

DiPalma. 1520 Greenville. 824-4500.

Marty’s. 3316 Oak Lawn. 526-4070.

The Mostly Cheese Cottage. 7402Greenville. 369-3839.