In America cheese got its start in country stores in our cracker-barrel days when every man felt free to saunter in, pick up the cheese knife and cut himself a wedge from the big-bellied rattrap cheese standing under its glass bell or wire mesh hood that kept the flies off but not the free-lunchers. Cheese by itself being none too palatable, the taster would saunter over to the cracker barrel, shoo the cat off and help himself to the old-time crackers that can't be beat today.
At that time Wisconsin still belonged to the Indians and Vermont was our leading cheese state, with its Sage and Cheddar and Vermont Country Store Crackers, as Vrest Orton of Weston Vermont, calls them. When Orton heard we were writing this book, he sent samples from the store his father started in 1897 which is still going strong. Together with the Vermont Good Old-fashioned Natural Cheese and the Sage came a handy handmade Cracker Basket, all wicker, ten crackers long and just one double cracker wide. A snug little casket for those puffy, old-time, two-in-one soda biscuits that have no salt to spoil the taste of the accompanying cheese. Each does double duty because it's made to split in the middle, so you can try one kind of cheese on one half and another on t'other, or sandwich them between.
Some Pied Piper took the country cheese and crackers to the corner saloon and led a free-lunch procession that never faltered till Prohibition came. The same old store cheese was soon pepped up as saloon cheese with a saucer of caraway seeds, bowls of pickles, peppers, pickled peppers and rye bread with plenty of mustard, pretzels or cheese straws, smearcase and schwarzbrot. Beer and cheese forever together, as in the free-lunch ditty of that great day:
It was there and then that cheese came of age from coast to coast. In every bar there was a choice of Swiss, Cottage, Limburger—manly cheeses, walkie-talkie oldsters that could sit up and beg, golden yellow, tangy mellow, always cut in cubes. Cheese takes the cube form as naturally as eggs take the oval and honeycombs the hexagon.
On the more elegant handout buffets, besides the shapely cubes, free Welsh Rabbit started at four every afternoon, to lead the tired businessman in by the nose; or a smear of Canadian Snappy out of a pure white porcelain pot in the classy places, on a Bent's water biscuit.
Next to nibbling cheese with crackers and appetizers, of which there is no end in sight, cheese sandwiches help us consume most of our country's enormous output of Brick, Cheddar and Swiss. To attempt to classify and describe all of these would be impossible, so we will content ourselves by picking a few of the cold and hot, the plain and the fancy, the familiar and the exotic. Let's use the alphabet to sum up the situation.
A Alpine Club Sandwich
Spread toasts with mayonnaise and fill with a thick slice of imported Emmentaler, well-mustarded and seasoned, and the usual club-sandwich toppings of thin slices of chicken or turkey, tomato, bacon and a lettuce leaf.
B Boston Beany, Open-face
Lightly butter a slice of Boston brown bread, cover it generously with hot baked beans and a thick layer of shredded Cheddar. Top with bacon and put under a slow broiler until cheese melts and the bacon crisps.
Pat out some small seasoned hamburgers exceedingly thin and, using them instead of slices of bread, sandwich in a nice slice of American Cheddar well covered with mustard. Crimp edges of the hamburgers all around to hold in the cheese when it melts and begins to run. Toast under a brisk boiler and serve on soft, toasted sandwich buns.
D Deviled Rye
Butter flat Swedish rye bread and heat quickly in hot oven. Cool until crisp again. Then spread thickly with cream cheese, bedeviled with catsup, paprika or pimiento.
E Egg, Open-faced
Sauté minced small onion and small green pepper in 2 tablespoons of butter and make a sauce by cooking with a cup of canned tomatoes. Season and reduce to about half. Fry 4 eggs and put one in the center of each of 4 pieces of hot toast spread with the red sauce. Sprinkle each generously with grated Cheddar, broil until melted and serve with crisp bacon.
F French-fried Swiss
Simply make a sandwich with a noble slice of imported Gruyère, soak it in beaten egg and milk and fry slowly till cheese melts and the sandwich is nicely browned. This is a specialty of Franche-Comté.
G Grilled Chicken-Ham-Cheddar
Cut crusts from 2 slices of white bread and butter them on both sides. Make a sandwich of these with 1 slice cooked chicken, ½ slice sharp Cheddar cheese, and a sprinkling of minced ham. Fasten tight with toothpicks, cut in half and dip thoroughly in a mixture of egg and milk. Grill golden on both sides and serve with lengthwise slices of dill pickle.
H He-man Sandwich, Open-faced
Butter a thick slice of dark rye bread, cover with a layer of mashed cold baked beans and a slice of ham, then one of Swiss cheese and a wheel of Bermuda onion topped with mustard and a sowing of capers.
I International Sandwich
Split English muffins and toast on the hard outsides, cover soft, untoasted insides with Swiss cheese, spread lightly with mustard, top that with a wheel of Bermuda onion and 1 or 2 slices of Italian-type tomato. Season with cayenne and salt, dot with butter, cover with Brazil nuts and brown under the broiler.
J Jurassiennes, or Croûtes Comtoises
Soak slices of stale buns in milk, cover with a mixture of onion browned in chopped lean bacon and mixed with grated Gruyère. Simmer until cheese melts, and serve.
If you like caraway flavor this is your sandwich: On well-buttered but lightly mustarded rye, lay a thickish slab of Milwaukee Kümmelkäse, which translates caraway cheese. For good measure sprinkle caraway seeds on top, or serve them in a saucer on the side. Then dash on a splash of kümmel, the caraway liqueur that's best when imported.
L Limburger Onion or Limburger Catsup
Marinate slices of Bermuda onion in a peppery French dressing for ½ hour. Then butter slices of rye, spread well with soft Limburger, top with onion and you will have something super-duper—if you like Limburger.
When catsup is substituted for marinated onion the sandwich has quite another character and flavor, so true Limburger addicts make one of each and take alternate bites for the thrill of contrast.
M Meringue, Open-faced (from the Browns' 10,000 Snacks)
Allow 1 egg and 4 tablespoons of grated cheese to 1 slice of bread. Toast bread on one side only, spread butter on untoasted side, put 2 tablespoons grated cheese over butter, and the yolk of an egg in the center. Beat egg white stiff with a few grains of salt and pile lightly on top. Sprinkle the other 2 tablespoons of grated cheese over that and bake in moderate oven until the egg white is firm and the cheese has melted to a golden-brown.
N Neufchâtel and Honey
We know no sandwich more ethereal than one made with thin, decrusted, white bread, spread with sweet butter, then with Neufchâtel topped with some fine honey—Mount Hymettus, if possible.
Any creamy Petit Suisse will do as well as the Neufchâtel, but nothing will take the place of the honey to make this heavenly sandwich that must have been the original ambrosia.
O Oskar's Ham-Cam
Oskar Davidsen of Copenhagen, whose five-foot menu lists 186 superb sandwiches and snacks, each with a character all its own, perfected the Ham-Cam base for a flock of fancy ham sandwiches, open-faced on rye or white, soft or crisp, sweet or sour, almost any one-way slice you desire. He uses as many contrasting kinds of bread as possible, and his butter varies from salt to fresh and whipped. The Ham-Cam base involves "a juicy, tender slice of freshly boiled, mild-cured ham" with imported Camembert spread on the ham as thick as velvet.
The Ham-Cam is built up with such splendors as "goose liver paste and Madeira wine jelly," "fried calves' kidney and rémoulade," "Bombay curry salad," "bird's liver and fried egg," "a slice of red roast beef" and more of that red Madeira jelly, with anything else you say, just so long as it does credit to Camembert on ham.
P Pickled Camembert
Butter a thin slice of rye or pumpernickel and spread with ripe imported Camembert, when in season (which isn't summer). Make a mixture of sweet, sour and dill pickles, finely chopped, and spread it on. Top this with a thin slice of white bread for pleasing contrast with the black.
Q Queijo da Serra Sandwich
On generous rounds of French "flute" or other crunchy, crusty white bread place thick portions of any good Portuguese cheese made of sheep's milk "in the mountains." This last translates back into Queijo da Serra, the fattest, finest cheese in the world—on a par with fine Greek Feta. Bead the open-faced creamy cheese lightly with imported capers, and you'll say it's scrumptious.
R Roquefort Nut
Butter hot toast and cover with a thickish slice of genuine Roquefort cheese. Sprinkle thickly with genuine Hungarian paprika. Put in moderate oven for about 6 minutes. Finish it off with chopped pine nuts, almonds, or a mixture thereof.
S Smoky Sandwich and Sturgeon-smoked Sandwich
Skin some juicy little, jolly little sprats, lay on thin rye, or a slice of miniature-loaf rye studded with caraway, spread with sweet butter and cover with a slice of smoked cheese.
Hickory is preferred for most of the smoking in America. In New York the best smoked cheese, whether from Canada or nearer home, is usually cured in the same room with sturgeon. Since this king of smoked fish imparts some of its regal savor to the Cheddar, there is a natural affinity peculiarly suited to sandwiching as above.
Smoked salmon, eel, whitefish or any other, is also good with cheese smoked with hickory or anything with a salubrious savor, while a sandwich of smoked turkey with smoked cheese is out of this world. We accompany it with a cup of smoky Lapsang Soochong China tea.
T Tangy Sandwich
On buttered rye spread cream cheese, and on this bed lay thinly sliced dried beef. In place of mustard dot the beef with horseradish and pearl onions or those reliable old chopped chives. And by the way, if you must use mustard on every cheese sandwich, try different kinds for a change: sharp English freshly mixed by your own hand out of the tin of powder, or Dijon for a French touch.
U Unusual Sandwich—of Flowers, Hay and Clover
On a sweet-buttered slice of French white bread lay a layer of equally sweet English Flower cheese (made with petals of rose, marigold, violet, etc.) and top that with French Fromage de foin. This French hay cheese gets its name from being ripened on hay and holds its new-mown scent. Sprinkle on a few imported capers (the smaller they are, the better), with a little of the luscious juice, and dust lightly with Sapsago.
V Vegetarian Sandwich
Roll your own of alternate leaves of lettuce, slices of store cheese, avocados, cream cheese sprinkled heavily with chopped chives, and anything else in the Vegetable or Caseous Kingdoms that suits your fancy.
W Witch's Sandwich
Butter 2 slices of sandwich bread, cover one with a thin slice of imported Emmentaler, dash with cayenne and a drop or two of tabasco. Slap on a sizzling hot slice of grilled ham and press it together with the cheese between the two bread slices, put in a hot oven and serve piping hot with a handful of "moonstones"—those outsize pearl onions.
X Xochomilco Sandwich
In spite of the "milco" in Xochomilco, there isn't a drop to be had that's native to the festive, floating gardens near Mexico City. For there, instead of the cow, a sort of century plant gives milky white pulque, the fermented juice of this cactuslike desert plant. With this goes a vegetable cheese curded by its own vegetable rennet. It's called tuna cheese, made from the milky juice of the prickly pear that grows on yet another cactuslike plant of the dry lands. This tuna cheese sometimes teams up in arid lands with the juicy thick cactus leaf sliced into a tortilla sandwich. The milky pulque of Xochomilco goes as well with it as beer with a Swiss cheese sandwich.
Y Yolk Picnic Sandwich
Hard-cooked egg yolk worked into a yellow paste with cream cheese, mustard, olive oil, lemon juice, celery salt and a touch of tabasco, spread on thick slices of whole wheat bread.
Take a tip from Oskar over in Copenhagen and design your own Zebra sandwich as decoratively as one of those oft-photoed skins in El Morocco. Just alternate stripes of black bread with various white cheeses in between, to follow, the black and white zebra pattern.
For good measure we will toss in a couple of toasted cheese sandwiches.
Butter both sides of 2 thick slices of white bread and sandwich between them a seasoned mixture of shredded sharp cheese, egg yolk, mustard and chopped chives, together with stiffly beaten egg white folded in last to make a light filling. Fry the buttered sandwich in more butter until well melted and nicely gilded.
This toasted cheeser is so good it's positively sinful. The French, who outdo us in both cooking and sin, make one of their own in the form of fried fingers of stale bread doused in an 'arf and 'arf Welsh Rabbit and Fondue melting of Gruyère, that serves as a liaison to further sandwich the two.
Garlic is often used in place of chopped chives, and in contrast to this wild one there's a mild one made of Dutch cream cheese by the equally Dutch Pennsylvanians.
England, of course, together with Wales, holds all-time honors with such celebrated regional "toasting cheeses" as Devonshire and Dunlop. Even British Newfoundland is known for its simple version, that's quite as pleasing as its rich Prince Edward Island Oyster Stew.
1 pound grated Cheddar
1 egg, well beaten
½ cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
Heat together and pour over well-buttered toast.