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How Cheese Came Into My Life: Everyone Has A Favorite

August 1, 2009

Unbelievably we are up to part seven of the ongoing series about how I got so fussy and my ongoing love affair with cheese.  If I had to say, today’s post is the climax, with the anticlimax and dénouement to follow.  Only two more posts to go.  Then Saturdays will be about something other than cheese, I promise.

This week is another one that I hope will inspire you 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 points relevant to this week’s story.  I had been discovering good cheese out in California, and my Nana had just rocked my world with the deliciousness of true English Stilton on a visit to East Hampton.  Then after a bad day at work, I found the cheese that would come to change my life.

Changing one’s life is no small claim.  That is why today is the climatic chapter of the cheese journey.
When I tried Peñazul for the first time at the Pasta Shop at Market Hall, I was thunderstruck.  I can still feel my teeth biting into the dense and almost silky creamy cheese, and the contrast of texture when they would encounter the sharp grit of a blue vein.  It was an intense and visceral experience.

And I had to tell everyone about it.

I wasn’t too sure how many people would be interested in talking about cheese.  Mrs. Fussy kicks me under the table when she thinks I am boring people with incessant talk about food.  But when I started engaging people on the subject of cheese, almost everyone took an interest.  As it turns out, almost everyone has a cheese that they love.  Like I loved my Peñazul.

So I listened.  And I took notes.  I wrote down the cheeses that other people loved, and I took the names of those favorites to my favorite cheesemongers at The Pasta Shop.  This turned out to be a very good way to start learning more about the wider world of cheese.

Although one time I did hit a bit of a snag.

My old college friends J&S are big wine lovers and would take an annual pilgrimage to France.  When I told them about my new favorite cheese, they told me about theirs.  They were introduced to Comte on their last trip, and they were in love with the stuff.  Ok, Comte.  Got it.

So I go to Market Hall and Cheese Girl is not there.  David was there in her place (David was great by the way).  Now while the Pasta Shop may not have every cheese, they did consistently seem to have all the great ones that people had been recommending.  I tell David that I am looking for Comte.  And I am taken aback when he tells me that they do not have it.

“Why?” I ask, probably looking a lot like a deer in the headlights.
David replies, “Because I have never had a Comte I’ve liked as much as I like this.”
And he pulls out a piece of cheese and starts to unwrap it.

And I am pissed.  I am confused.  J&S have excellent taste.  Was David telling me he didn’t like good cheese, but I should try this instead?  Was this some kind of clever cover-up for a lapse in their inventory?

He takes a piece of the cheese for himself, and hands a piece to me.  And we taste it.  Remember how much I loved that other Spanish blue.  Well now there was a new cheese that was a serious contender for my affection, and its name is L’Etivaz.

David was serious.  This cheese counter was serious.  Months later I would try Comte and learned that David was also right.  Still, Comte is a delicious cheese.

Now I had two ridiculously good cheeses in my stable.  And from there it just grew and grew and grew.  Eventually I became a familiar face to the cheesemongers at the Pasta Shop, and I started to branch out on my own.  I developed a better cheese vocabulary and read the Jenkins book to help cement the memory of the cheeses I brought home.

I learned to wait for the lulls in traffic at the cheese counter so that I could have lengthy discussions and tastings with those behind the counter.  They were very generous with their time and knowledge.  One day on a lark they indulged me in a Feta tasting, so now I can authoritatively tell you that French, Greek, Israeli and Bulgarian feta are all very different expressions of the same cheese.  Respectively they are sweet, salty, earthy and subdued.

But next week we will have more on what happened after I gained the respect of those behind the counter.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jesse permalink
    August 1, 2009 5:54 pm

    I am now officially craving cheese. We need to hit the town for a serious cheese tasting on your trip to SF. We can’t wait to see you!

  2. August 3, 2009 8:22 pm

    Oh my gosh. We also need a cheese tasting, maybe with a wine tasting here.

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