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How Cheese Came Into My Life: Cheese Cheers Me Up When I Am Feeling Blue

July 25, 2009

Just in case you are not counting, we are up to part six of the ongoing series about how I got so fussy and my ongoing love affair with cheese.  The longer this thread goes on, the more self-indulgent it becomes.  But isn’t that what weekends are for?  Plus it does trace one path of my epicurean journey, and give credit to those who got me here.

This week is another one where I hope you will be inspired to drop in on your local cheesemonger.

If you are new to this thread, you can catch up with the previous posts here.  Or you can just read this brief summary of the relevant points for this week’s story.  I was working in San Francisco, and discovering cheese.  I found a good goat cheese, knew I could trust the recommendations of Cheese Girl, and I just had my world rocked with the deliciousness of true English Stilton.
Well, that job that I had really bent me out of shape one day.

It was so long ago that I can’t even remember what it was that put me in such a crap mood.  But I do remember what made me better.

Most days I took the BART from San Francisco to the Rockridge station in North Oakland.  Across the street from the station is the Pasta Shop at Market Hall.  It was there where ADS would regularly buy cheeses for the men of Whoodily House.

That day, in a funky fog, I wandered to the cheese counter and I read all the labels.  Every cheese in their open case had a little tag, with its name and a brief description of the product.  Reading all the labels was no small task.  My eyes just moved from label to label.  I wasn’t even looking at the cheeses.  And I certainly wasn’t in the mood to ask the Cheese Girl a question.

Finally, I read a label that sounded perfect.  The cheese was called Peñazul.

I told Cheese Girl that I would like some of it to bring home.  She looked at me regretfully, and said that she couldn’t sell me any.  I followed her eyes to the space where the Peñazul was nestled among the cheeses and saw the sad little wedge that was all that remained of the wheel.  It was a puny thing.

My instinct was to object and get adamant that she sell it to me.  Just as I was about to open my pie-hole and argue that while it might not weigh much, it must weigh something, and that I didn’t care how small it was dammit, I just wanted to eat that awesome cheese, she wrapped up the last piece, put it in a bag, and just gave it to me.  A gift.

And while I had thought the traditional English Stilton I had in East Hampton rocked my world, this was even better.  It was my new favorite cheese hands down.  Intense, leaf wrapped, semi-soft Spanish blue.  It was sweet and creamy, but got a bit more astringent close to the leafy wrapping.

I wish I could give you a link today to the cheese I had back then.  But even while I was still living in California, the Pasta Shop stopped being able to get this cheese.  It somehow defies mention in Steven Jenkins’ Cheese Primer.  It is not even listed in my out of print Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide to Cheese.

There are examples of the cheese online, but the Peñazul is clearly not the same.  What I ate looked more similar to Valdeon.  But looking back at a menu of one of the best considered cheese plates I have seen, Peñazul would seem to have something to do with Picon.  And on some level that makes sense, but I am fairly certain they are two separate cheeses.

And no, the Food Lover’s Companion is no help today either.

Perhaps there are just some things we have to enjoy while we have them.  Not everything will be around forever.  And I do try to not take delicious things for granted.

But really all of this is immaterial.  What is really important are the two things this experience did for me.
1)    It hooked me on the Pasta Shop – they took a page out of the drug dealer’s book, where the first one is always free.
2)    It turned me into a cheese evangelist – being so impressed with this new obscure cheese, I felt compelled to let everyone know.

And these things had a way of playing off each other in unexpected and unforeseen ways.  Which is where we will pick up the story again, next week.

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