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How Cheese Came Into My Life: Living in California

June 27, 2009

If it’s Saturday, it must be time for another part in what seems to be a never-ending saga of my love affair with cheese.

If you are reading this, it is either by accident and you haven’t read the past two weeks where I talked about my fussy childhood and college experiences with cheese, or you did read those and are just a glutton for punishment.

Today I may very well inspire you to seek out a local cheesemonger again, or at the very least reconsider cooking dinner on some warm summer evening.

At this point in the cheese story, I find myself in California, and somehow I am kind of an adult.  I have an advertising job at a small agency in San Francisco.  And I have a commute.  But I am not that far removed from the person I was in college.

Still, with a job comes income.  And while the entry levels of agency life are not the greatest-paying of the workforce, it was refreshing to have some spending money.  One of the many things I would spend this money on was dinner.  I still had not really turned on to food, but I was moving in that direction.

It helped to live in Northern California where the food is just good everywhere.

The local supermarket had a broad and deep selection of wines, local and imported cheeses, and baguettes from the best bakeries in the area.

More often than I care to admit, I would come home with a loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese and a bottle of wine.  And that would be dinner.  Eaten on the front porch.  Leisurely.  With friends.

I’ll be the first to admit that I knew nothing of pairings.  I was drinking big red wines with fresh goat cheese and thinking of myself as very sophisticated.  And perhaps by throwing convention to the wind, and drinking what I enjoyed, I was indeed.

The memory of the wines picked up from the local market has faded, but I still remember the cheeses.

Since I was in Northern California, every supermarket sold locally produced fresh goat cheese.  One that I kept coming back to was Cypress Grove’s fresh chevre disks.  In the market they came in neat shrink-wrapped little four-ounce disks that were the perfect size for dinner.

Another cheese that I clearly remember bringing home more than once was Cambozola.  Here is what Steve Jenkins has to say about it in his awesome book the Cheese Primer:

“A very popular brand-name German factory-made cheese (produced by a company called Champignon) that imitates both Brie and Gorgonzola.  Indeed, its name is a combination of Camembert and Gorgonzola.  This cheese has little character and goes against everything I believe in – it is the result of successful marketing, not cheesemaking.”

Later I would learn there is a cheese similar to Cambozola, but a real cheese of character, and its name is Montbriac.  After discovering this French beauty at my local cheese counter, I also ran into it again at the French Laundry in Yountville.  If you are a Cambozola lover yourself, I urge you to seek it out immediately.

It is good to remember that you will get better cheese from a good cheesemonger than you will find pre-cut and pre-wrapped at a supermarket.  Not only will they have better kinds of cheese that are hand-selected, but they will take better care of the cheeses, provide you with a taste before buying, and slice and wrap the cheese to order.

I also came to realize that the Cypress Grove fresh chevre I had been enjoying happens to be a mighty fine cheese.  Which is good, since it plays a critical role in the unfolding cheese story in a few weeks.  Once I made it to a good cheese counter, I found my fresh wheels of chevre as well as other aged specimens from the same producer.  And it turns out the fresh cheese was even finer when it came unwrapped and was lovingly cared for by the cheesemonger.

But we are jumping ahead of ourselves.  Next week I will introduce you to Cheese Girl.

Until then, maybe one night this week when it’s too hot to cook, you pick up two bottles of inexpensive wine, a hunk of cheese, and a loaf of crusty bread, and enjoy one of life’s simpler pleasures.  Nutrition be damned.

And let me know how it went.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 47whitebuffalo permalink
    June 27, 2009 2:11 pm

    hmm…your memories reminded me of the BEST cheese I ever ate—on an old Italian communter train with ‘compartments’. Shared this with an a couple who spoke NO English. And NO English or Italian was need when we all got hungry and started pulling out what foods we had hauled onto the train–the sharing began immediately and THEY had the best goast cheese I ever ate–of their own making. God it was good!
    —ha—one photo leads to a memory and now your post on cheese leads to another…thank you..

  2. June 27, 2009 5:40 pm

    I love trying new kinds of cheese. Cabot Vermont Cheddar, havent had that in a while! May have to track some down!

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