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How Cheese Came Into My Life: Nana Needs Her Cheese

July 18, 2009

For those who did not tune in last several Saturdays, this is part five of an ongoing series about how I got so fussy and my ongoing love affair with cheese.  Yes, it is a bit self-indulgent.  But it does trace one path of my epicurean journey, and give credit to those who got me here.

One of those people is my Nana.

My father’s mother was always been an inspiration.  It was she who taught me to eat lobster.  It was at her parties where I wolfed down classic hors d’ouvres, like scallops wrapped in bacon.  It was her chopped liver that makes me swoon (ok, the chopped liver she bought from the best deli in Great Neck).

If I know what is good, it is only because my Nana knew what was good first.
So, I’m out of college, and living in California.  I’ve got a job.  I have found some good local goat cheese.  And I have a passing familiarity with and increasing respect for the Pasta Shop at Market Hall.

It’s time to head back east for a visit and see the family.

We converge on East Hampton.  No, we don’t take the yacht or the helicopter.  My aunt is a townie.  Anyhow, my aunt and I go to the market to pick up some snacks to munch around the house.  I had told Aunt S. how taken I was by my local cheese shop, and that I had been enjoying wine and cheese dinners.

She thought it would be fun to have me pick out some cheeses from her fancy East Hampton gourmet market.  I think someone famous owned the store or something.

Let me tell you, it was kind of terrifying being in a strange market without my trusted advisors.  But luckily I found my old standby, the Cypress Grove Chevre, and I breathed a sigh of relief.  We bought a small round of it.  Then I saw some membrillo and it was easy to find a manchego to go along with that.  ADS had been bringing home that classic combination with some frequency, so I knew it was a winner.

Then Aunt S. realized something.  We would need to get Nana a piece of her favorite cheese.  Aunt S. got a look that was somewhere in between disappointed and disgusted.  I had no idea what the cheese was.  But apparently it was so distasteful that Aunt S. asked for the smallest possible slice, since only Nana would touch something so vile.

Turned out it was Colston Bassett Stilton.  Turned out I loved it.  Turned out it is one of the finest cheeses in the world.

Obviously.  That’s my Nana.

Really, it was a watershed moment.  I had had blue cheese before.  I liked blue cheese just fine.  I liked big chunks of it in dressing for salads and as a condiment for buffalo wings.

But the Colston Bassett Stilton from Neal’s Yard Dairy is in another whole league.  First, it’s just a beautiful cheese to behold.  Tall and majestic with a rough-hewn crust.  When sliced open it reveals a cream-colored cheese with a tangle of veins running throughout.

The cheese has a slight sweetness and delicate grassiness to it, which corrects itself immediately once you come in contact with the sharp and pungent veins.

I had never had anything like it.
I had never experienced anything like it.
I think I might have been in love.

The next time I would go to the cheese counter at the Pasta Shop at Market Hall, I would carry this memory with me.  And it would continue to have a profound effect on my adventures in cheese.

Nana liked my cheeses just fine.  I am just grateful she is a good sharer.

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