As we enter the season of decadence, I can’t help but crave Roquefort. It’s as luxurious as fur, and it pairs well with so many things associated with the winter season: ripe pears, dates, figs, honey, walnuts. After a big meal, this triple-crème sheep’s milk blue becomes the evening’s star, especially when served with a glass of nectar-like Sauternes.
I have a tendency to look past small, hard cheeses in favor of washed rinds, blues, and anything wrapped in lace or bark. On a recent cheese plate, however, Garrotxa – a vibrant Spanish goat cheese – caught my eye. It’s my new little velvetine rabbit.
I love the smell of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar – it smells like the woods in fall. Like sweet soil and apple trees, with a hint of woodfire wafting above the limbs. It’s the kind of cheese you should eat in a leaf pile, sliver by sliver, with a pocket knife. Take a hunk of hearty bread and a pocket flask, and you’ll never want to return from the wilds.
It’s not often that you get a farmer, a brewer, a chef, and a cheesemonger to join together for dinner. The farmer has her animals to milk in the evenings. The brewer has beers to pour. The chef usually stays in the kitchen, and the cheesemonger…well, you know where he’d rather be. In the cave, of course.
On appearance, Scamorza (ska-MORT-sa) is one of the ugliest cheeses. It looks like the belly button of a giant baby – dried out, pale, and slightly waxy. For years, I avoided it. No one I knew ate it, and the only person I ever saw order it in the cheese line was an old man with very large ears.
Authentic Parmigiano Reggiano is one of the greatest inventions. For me, it’s always been the cashmere socks of the cheese case. It can dress up anything, even an egg. I like it plain, too, to suck on after a good meal. Those caramel notes are all the sweetness I need, and I like the way Parm crumbles like rock candy.
For Rocco (center), the highlight was meeting Sister Noella, the cheese nun – a microbiologist and Benedictine who set up her microscope in a conference room and invited cheesemakers to come in for a rind tutotorial. Rocco picked up a few tips from her presentation on “Growing Molds Gracefully” which he plans to implement in the aging cave back on Chestnut Street.
It’s berry picking season, and that means one thing: cheese and fresh fruit for dinner. I love nothing more than loading up on cherries, strawberries, blueberries, or blackberries and setting out a cheese board to match. Add a plate of smoked fish, a light salad, some white wine, and you’ve got a glorious feast. No fuss. No hot oven.
People are always asking you questions, so you have to learn stuff constantly. For example, when I started I didn’t know about vegetarian rennet [a coagulant used in cheesemaking], but customers would come to the counter and ask for “vegetarian cheese.” Now I know to point them toward Portuguese cheeses, like La Serena, Gardunha, and Azeitao. They’re all made with rennet from cardoons, which are like thistles.