‘Cheese is good. Cheese is alive’.
- Granny Weatherwax, in The Wee Free Men
There might be something more to life than eating cheese and drinking wine, but quite frankly, there isn’t much of it.
Fame evaporates and so do lovers (metaphorically speaking, I hope), but a good cheese will wait in the fridge faithfully, intent only on being eaten*. It may not be as glamorous and exciting as some exotic fruit, or as showy as caviare or some fancy dessert. But it’s damn tasty, that’s for sure.
Right at the start of this little blogging folly of mine, I promised to explore the cheese subject in-depth. A good opportunity has just presented itself – my love of cheese is well-known to those close to me, so they’ve been presenting me with many dairy delicacies lately. It’s not every day You find five different kinds of cheese at home, so I couldn’t let this pass unnoticed.
Cheese is one of the oldest foods in the world – older than bread, surely, because milk-giving animals have been domesticated before humans learned to grow crops. Nothing conclusive is known about the exact place of its origin, but it seems logical that cheese originated more or less everywhere: all humans need to eat and are likely to experiment widely in that field, and milk was available pretty much to every ethnic group out there. So if You’re feeling like giving Your respects to the ancestors, cheese is a good bet.
There are thousands of types and varieties of cheese, since all those Peoples who got the idea have been working on it ever since. They can be classed by many different criteria, such as type of milk used (cow, sheep, goat etc.), texture or type of fabrication process and so on. Since all this is not really that useful and can be read elsewhere, I will stick to my own examples. As seen on the picture, we have:
The blue vein
Made using a special variety of mould, these cheeses have a very characteristic apparition and a peculiar, strong taste. Can be made from any milk, but the most famous one, roquefort, is only allowed to bear the name if made from sheep milk and in the caves near Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.
When dealing with those, it’s important to remember that they are, for all intents and purposes, covered with mould. Do not wrap them up with other cheeses, even other “mouldy” ones. It’s also a good idea to wash the knife before using it on something else, unless You do want to spread the mould everywhere.
Strong, dry red wine is necessary – anything weaker will lose to the taste of cheese immediately. Incidentally, the “vein” can be anything from blue to green to red to even purple at times.
The ‘standard’ semi-soft
There’s actually nothing standard about them, seeing as the category is only semi-valid by itself, but those cheeses are the most popular around the western world – Gouda, Edam or Maasdamer, those are the cheeses that You will put on a sandwich most often. They can vary greatly in tastes and shapes, and their biggest advantage is being as close to ‘universal’ cheese as possible: they can be sliced for toast, grated for pizza or pastas and cut in large bits for fried cheese cutlets.
These cheeses keep well and start spoiling from the surface, so the places in question can be cut off without losing the rest. Just remember not to leave them unwrapped as they dry out and become unusable.
The soft-ripened cheese
Made of most varieties of milk, using a special kind of mould, but having almost nothing in common with the blue veins. Amazing, isn’t it? Those are the brie, camembert, coulommiers, or brique (all French examples, because I’m writing what I know). This kind of cheese does not, usually, keep at all, as it is intended to be eaten in one sitting. Tastes range from mild and creamy (brie) to sharp and piquant (ripe camembert). Always with red wine, dry or semi-dry, never sweet.
Mostly eaten individually, just like the blue veins, but some salad and pasta recipes call for them.
Those are the ones that crumble rather than cut and go ‘knock’ when You tap them. Grana padano, parmiggiano, peccorino – Italy is the leader here, as this kind of cheese is intended to be grated and used as a condiment for pasta (sometimes roasted meat). Assembled in big molds and aged for years, sometimes, they can be undistinguishable from their thick wax crust, until tasted. There is no mistaking their taste, and I’m not going to attempt to describe it. They are expensive, but worth the price.
Can be eaten individually, but are at their best with pasta. Indispensable for more “modest” types of spaghetti sauce, like aglio et olio or puttanesca, where a lesser cheese will make a dissonance.
I can go on much longer like this, but feel obliged to stop now for the sake of my dear Readers. And for a bite of brie.
* I don’t need love,
For what good will love do me?
Cheddar never lies to me,
For when love’s gone,
Cheeses last on…