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How Cheese Came Into My Life: Going Behind the Counter

August 9, 2009

I hope you have been enjoying this ongoing series that has outlined my long love affair with cheese.  While it is just one side of how I got so fussy, it’s an important one that had its roots in the Bay Area.  Really it’s all because of the Pasta Shop at Market Hall, in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland.  We’ll talk more about them in a few moments.

After today there is only one more post to go.  Then Saturdays will be about something other than cheese, I promise.

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.  After my Nana exposed me to true English Stilton, I found a Spanish blue cheese that changed my life.  As I told more and more people about this glorious cheese, they told me all about their favorites.  When I tried to buy one of these friend-approved cheeses, serendipity came along (really it was a guy named David) and introduced me to another cheese that rocked my world.

And then I was hooked.

I’d go to the cheese counter almost daily.  I knew when the cheese deliveries came in.  And I knew when they would have the new cheese out on display.

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, months turned into years.  I saw junior cheesemongers come and go.  I saw cheese girl leave to pursue other interests, and I was there for her triumphant return.  Other sage advisors left too, never to be seen again.

At some point I must have earned their trust or respect, or maybe just their curiosity.  Because one day, they invited me to do something spectacular.

The Pasta Shop sold a mad amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano.  They would generally have several massive wheels of the stuff sitting opposite the cheese counter.  Which was stunning given the small square-footage of the store at the time.  Well, this day my visit to the store happened to coincide with when the cheesemongers were splitting open a new wheel.

And they asked me if I wanted to come behind the counter and do it.

Cutting open a giant wheel of parm-reg is a big deal.  The street value of the wheels is enormous.  And once you open one, the aging process stops.  So first you want to make sure the cheese is ready.  Luckily the professionals had already decided this part.

But there is a significant ritual to the task at hand, and most people will never get the opportunity to do it themselves.  Naturally, the Pasta Shop had all three of the required traditional knives to complete the task.

First there is the hooked scoring knife, which you use to cut a small grove around the rind of this hulking wheel.  Then, there is the dagger like piercing blade, which cuts deep into the cheese, along the groove.  Working along the grove, you penetrate the cheese every few inches until you are back to where you started.  Finally, there is the wider turning knife.  This is the one you proverbially twist, and subsequently the giant wheel of cheese splits.

What you want is a clean split.  For a first timer, I think I did pretty well.  And to thank my for my efforts, the cheesemongers carved out the heart of the cheese and gave it to me as a souvenir to take home and eat.  Which is the best kind of souvenir ever.

It may be geeky, but it was exhilarating.

Maybe part of that has to do with parm-reg being my desert island cheese.  You know, the cheese you would take with you on a desert island, if you could only have one cheese for the rest of your life.  It is so hard to say which cheese is a favorite.  They each suit such different moods, and times.  And favorites can be so fickle.

But parm-reg suits so many different moods and times.  It can be had on its own.  It goes well with food.  You can eat it for dessert.  It can be enjoyed in chunks, or shavings, or grated into a fine dust.  When truly ripe, its depth of flavor is magnificent.

And I am grateful for the opportunity to play a role in the lifecycle of one of its wheels.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 18, 2009 8:10 pm

    What an experience! It sounds like your long term cheese-lationship had some great benefits, delicious ones, at that.

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