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How Cheese Came Into My Life: The Early Years

June 13, 2009

“How did you get to be so fussy?”  It’s a fair question.  The truth is there were many converging paths that have carried my epicurean journey to where it is today.  One of these paths involves my love of cheese.

It’s a long meandering path.  And since Saturdays are historically low traffic days for the FLB, I decided to be a bit indulgent and tell more of my story (in far too many parts).

Hopefully, if I do this well, people besides my devoted family will find this to be interesting.  And it may even inspire you to try new things from your local neighborhood cheesemonger.

Ready?  Go.

I have two early memories of being fussy about cheese in childhood.  My family was living in Miami.  And my mom was buying supermarket cheese.

One of the cheeses she would regularly buy was pre-sliced Kraft Munster.  Which I kinda liked.  Actually, what I liked were the orange parts on the outside edges.  So I would take each slice and take the smallest nibbles I could to eat only the flavorful edges without my bites being tarnished by the bland tasteless interior.

Swiss cheese would be bought at the Publix deli counter.  Here I insisted that my mother buy the imported Swiss, since the domestic didn’t taste like anything.  I also required her to instruct that the slices be cut as thin as possible.  Really I thought they were best when sliced so thin as to be translucent.

Little did I know at the time, but both of those scenarios – besides indicating a certain level of early innate fussiness – involve time honored, traditional methods of strengthening the flavor of cheese.

At the time my mother was bringing home slices from industrial bricks of a cheese called munster, I had no idea it was a facsimile of a real cheese.  But real munster from Alsace is a stinky pungent cheese, that I have come to love and Mrs. Fussy thinks tastes like cabbage.  But she says that of pretty much all washed rind cheeses.

The thing that makes true munster the staggering work of genius that it is, is the washed rind.  Steve Jenkins explains in his Cheese Primer that the cheese has been “washed or ‘rubbed’ by hand with a cloth moistened by a brine solution of rock salt and water.  This solution inhibits the growth of mold while encouraging the growth of bacteria instrumental to giving the cheese a strong flavor and smell.”

There are some amazing cheeses from Switzerland.  But when I think about slicing the Swiss cheese as thin as possible, one traditional cheese comes immediately to mind:  Tête de Moine.

While some Swiss cheeses, like cave-aged Emmenthaler, come in wheels larger than a small child, the Tête de Moine is diminutive.  It’s more like a large softball.  And it is notable because a device was manufactured with the sole purpose of cutting this cheese as thin as possible.

It’s called a Girolle.  And it doesn’t cut so much as it shaves.  The blade sits perpendicular to the cheese on a spike that has been unceremoniously shoved through the middle of the wheel.  As the blade turns, the wax rind crumbles off the edges as thin shavings rumple together to form rosettes.

What the hell, right?  Why go through all this trouble for a cheese?

Well, in theory, what thinly shaving the cheese accomplishes is exposing more surface area of the cheese to the air.  This in turn allows the cheese to release more molecules up your nose, to amplify its intense flavor even further.

It would seem, that as a precocious child, I was onto something.  At the very least, I was decidedly a flavor seeker.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Tonia permalink
    June 13, 2009 9:40 am

    Interesting. My mom used to make us cheese and mayo sandwiches with aforementioned muenster or “American” cheese. They made me gag. So, as a child I never liked cheese unless it was grilled or on pizza. The good ole days tomato soup (Campbell’s out of a can) and grilled cheese. Cute story. I liked it. I guess I’m one of those nostalgic people. :-)

  2. phairhead permalink
    June 13, 2009 10:18 am

    i like my cheeses soft and creamy. I was in England a few years ago and UGH they serve hard cheese that tastes like sweaty socks. Blech!

  3. June 14, 2009 10:28 am

    Mmmmm… hard cheese that smells like sweaty socks, Stilton maybe? If so, how dare you insult the undisputed king of cheese!

  4. June 16, 2009 12:23 pm

    but it tasted bad and there was 3 of them. all hard and mouldy. blech!

  5. brownie permalink
    June 25, 2009 12:45 pm

    Muenster… my grandmother always bought slices from the deli counter, which were no cut above the prepackaged Kraft. She pronounced it “Minster” for unknown reasons, perhaps because no one else does. She also spoke like Julia Child, which was a lot of fun.

    I really must buy some better cheese. The fridge is stocked with Kraft slices which go great with a touch of sour cream mixed into their sister, Kraft Dinner. Yes, I’m a boxed mac cheese connisseur. There’s also the sharp cheddar on sale that week, and those Babybel individually wrapped cheese bits which taste like they’re mostly made of salt (is that so bad?).

    Looking forward to an education here. Cheese on!

    • enoughalready! permalink
      May 20, 2010 9:49 pm

      finally, someone who understands THIN cheese – (you can never get the supermarket to slice cheese thin enough- and thick swiss just doesn’t cut it!) – thought i was the only one who demands it that way. thanks, mr fussy.

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