Complete Book of Cheese, The


Lazy Lou

Once, so goes the sad story, there was a cheesemonger unworthy of his heritage. He exported a shipload of inferior "Swiss" made somewhere in the U.S.A. Bad to begin with, it had worsened on the voyage. Rejected by the health authorities on the other side, it was shipped back, reaching home in the unhappy condition known as "cracked." To cut his losses the rascally cheesemonger had his cargo ground up and its flavor disguised with hot peppers and chili sauce. Thus there came into being the abortion known as the "cheese spread."

The cheese spread or "food" and its cousin, the processed cheese, are handy, cheap and nasty. They are available every where and some people even like them. So any cheese book is bound to take formal notice of their existence. I have done so—and now, an unfond farewell to them.

My academic cheese education began at the University of Wisconsin in 1904. I grew up with our great Midwest industry; I have read with profit hundreds of pamphlets put out by the learned Aggies of my Alma Mater. Mostly they treat of honest, natural cheeses: the making, keeping and enjoying of authentic Longhorn Cheddars, short Bricks and naturalized Limburgers.

At the School of Agriculture the students still, I am told, keep their hand in by studying the classical layout on a cheese board. One booklet recommends the following for freshman contemplation:


These six sturdy samples of Wisconsin's best will stimulate any amount of classroom discussion. Does the Edam go better with German-American black bread or with Swedish Ry-Krisp? To butter or not to butter? And if to butter, with which cheese? Salt or sweet? How close do we come to the excellence of the genuine Alpine Swiss? Primary school stuff, but not unworthy of thought.

Pass on down the years. You are now ready to graduate. Your cheese board can stand a more sophisticated setup. Try two boards; play the teams against each other.

The All-American Champs


The European Giants

The postgraduate may play the game using as counters the great and distinctive cheeses of more than fifty countries. Your Scandinavian board alone, just to give an idea of the riches available, will shine with blues, yellows, whites, smoky browns, and chocolates representing Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Lapland.

For the Britisher only blue-veined Stilton is worthy to crown the banquet. The Frenchman defends Roquefort, the Dane his own regal Blue; the Swiss sticks to Emmentaler before, during and after all three meals. You may prefer to finish with a delicate Brie, a smoky slice of Provolone, a bit of Baby Gouda, or some Liptauer Garniert, about which more later.

We load them all on Lazy Lou, Lazy Susan's big twin brother, a giant roulette wheel of cheese, every number a winner. A second Lazy Lou will bear the savories and go-withs. For these tidbits the English have a divine genius; think of the deviled shrimps, smoked oysters, herring roe on toast, snips of broiled sausage ... But we will make do with some olives and radishes, a few pickles, nuts, capers. With our two trusty Lazy Lous on hand plus wine or beer, we can easily dispense with the mere dinner itself.

Perhaps it is an Italian night. Then Lazy Lou is happily burdened with imported Latticini; Incanestrato, still bearing the imprint of its wicker basket; Pepato, which is but Incanestrato peppered; Mel Fina; deep-yellow, buttery Scanno with its slightly burned flavor; tangy Asiago; Caciocavallo, so called because the the cheeses, tied in pairs and hung over a pole, look as though they were sitting in a saddle—cheese on horseback, or "cacio a cavallo." Then we ring in Lazy Lou's first assistant, an old, silver-plated, revolving Florentine magnum-holder. It's designed to spin a gigantic flask of Chianti. The flick of a finger and the bottle is before you. Gently pull it down and hold your glass to the spout.

True, imported wines and cheeses are expensive. But native American products and reasonably edible imitations of the real thing are available as substitutes. Anyway, protein for protein, a cheese party will cost less than a steak barbecue. And it can be more fun.

Encourage your guests to contribute their own latest discoveries. One may bring along as his ticket of admission a Primavera from Brazil; another some cubes of an Andean specialty just flown in from Colombia's mountain city, Mérida, and still wrapped in its aromatic leaves of Frailejón Lanudo; another a few wedges of savory sweet English Flower cheese, some flavored with rose petals, others with marigolds; another a tube of South American Kräuterkäse.

Provide your own assortment of breads and try to include some of those fat, flaky old-fashioned crackers that country stores in New England can still supply. Mustard? Sure, if .you like it. If you want to be fancy, use a tricky little gadget put out by the Maille condiment-makers in France and available here in the food specialty shops. It's a miniature painter's palate holding five mustards of different shades and flavors and two mustard paddles. The mustards, in proper chromatic order, are: jonquil yellow "Strong Dijon"; "Green Herbs"; brownish "Tarragon"; golden "Ora"; crimson "Tomato-flavored."

And, just to keep things moving, we have restored an antique whirling cruet-holder to deliver Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, A-1, Tap Sauce and Major Grey's Chutney. Salt shakers and pepper mills are handy, with a big-holed tin canister filled with crushed red-pepper pods, chili powder, Hungarian-paprika and such small matters. Butter, both sweet and salt, is on hand, together with, saucers or bowls of curry, capers, chives (sliced, not chopped), minced onion, fresh mint leaves, chopped pimientos, caraway, quartered lemons, parsley, fresh tarragon, tomato slices, red and white radishes, green and black olives, pearl onions and assorted nutmeats.

Some years ago, when I was collaborating with my mother, Cora, and my wife, Rose, in writing 10,000 Snacks (which, by the way, devotes nearly forty pages to cheeses), we staged a rather elaborate tasting party just for the three of us. It took a two-tiered Lazy Lou to twirl the load.

The eight wedges on the top round were English and French samples and the lower one carried the rest, as follows:


The tasting began with familiar English Cheddars, Cheshires and Stiltons from the top row. We had cheese knives, scoops, graters, scrapers and a regulation wire saw, but for this line of crumbly Britishers fingers were best.

The Cheddar was a light, lemony-yellow, almost white, like our best domestic "bar cheese" of old.

The Cheshire was moldy and milky, with a slightly fermented flavor that brought up the musty dining room of Fleet Street's Cheshire cheese and called for draughts of beer. The Stilton was strong but mellow, as high in flavor as in price.

Only the rum-flavored Canadian Cheddar from Montreal (by courtesy English) let us down. It was done up as fancy as a bridegroom in waxed white paper and looked as smooth and glossy as a gardenia. But there its beauty ended. Either the rum that flavored it wasn't up to much or the mixture hadn't been allowed to ripen naturally.

The French Münster, however, was hearty, cheery, and better made than most German Münster, which at that time wasn't being exported much by the Nazis. The Brie was melting prime, the Camembert was so perfectly matured we ate every scrap of the crust, which can't be done with many American "Camemberts" or, indeed, with the dead, dry French ones sold out of season. Then came the Roquefort, a regal cheese we voted the best buy of the lot, even though it was the most expensive. A plump piece, pleasantly unctuous but not greasy, sharp in scent, stimulatingly bittersweet in taste—unbeatable. There is no American pretender to the Roquefort throne. Ours is invariably chalky and tasteless. That doesn't mean we have no good Blues. We have. But they are not Roquefort.

The Sapsago or Kräuterkäse from Switzerland (it has been made in the Canton of Glarus for over five hundred years) was the least expensive of the lot. Well-cured and dry, it lent itself to grating and tasted fine on an old-fashioned buttered soda cracker. Sapsago has its own seduction, derived from the clover-leaf powder with which the curd is mixed and which gives it its haunting flavor and spring-like sage-green color.

Next came some truly great Swiss Gruyère, delicately rich, and nutty enough to make us think of the sharp white wines to be drunk with it at the source.

As for the Provolone, notable for the water-buffalo milk that makes it, there's an example of really grown-up milk. Perfumed as spring flowers drenched with a shower of Anjou, having a bouquet all its own and a trace of a winelike kick, it made us vow never to taste another American imitation. Only a smooth-cheeked, thick slab cut from a pedigreed Italian Provolone of medium girth, all in one piece and with no sign of a crack, satisfy the gourmet.

The second Italian classic was Gorgonzola, gorgeous Gorgonzola, as fruity as apples, peaches and pears sliced together. It smells so much like a ripe banana we often eat them together, plain or with the crumbly formaggio lightly forked into the fruit, split lengthwise.

After that the Edam tasted too lipsticky, like the red-paint job on its rind, and the Gouda seemed only half-hearted. Both too obviously ready-made for commerce with nothing individual or custom-made about them, rolled or bounced over from Holland by the boat load.

The Ostiepki from Czechoslovakia might have been a link of smoked ostrich sausage put up in the skin of its own red neck. In spite of its pleasing lemon-yellow interior, we couldn't think of any use for it except maybe crumbling thirty or forty cents' worth into a ten-cent bowl of bean soup. But that seemed like a waste of money, so we set it aside to try in tiny chunks on crackers as an appetizer some other day, when it might be more appetizing.

We felt much the same about the chocolate-brown Norwegian Gjetost that looked like a slab of boarding-school fudge and which had the same cloying cling to the tongue. We were told by a native that our piece was entirely too young. That's what made it so insipid, undeveloped in texture and flavor. But the next piece we got turned out to be too old and decrepit, and so strong it would have taken a Paul Bunyan to stand up under it. When we complained to our expert about the shock to our palates, he only laughed, pointing to the nail on his little finger.

"You should take just a little bit, like that. A pill no bigger than a couple of aspirins or an Alka-Seltzer. It's only in the morning you take it when it's old and strong like this, for a pick-me-up, a cure for a hangover, you know, like a prairie oyster well soused in Worcestershire."

That made us think we might use it up to flavor a Welsh Rabbit, instead of the Worcestershire sauce, but we couldn't melt it with anything less than a blowtorch.

To bring the party to a happy end, we went to town on the Hungarian Liptauer, garnishing that fine, granulating buttery base after mixing it well with some cream cheese. We mixed the mixed cheese with sardine and tuna mashed together in a little of the oil from the can. We juiced it with lemon, sluiced it with bottled sauces, worked in the leftovers, some tarragon, mint, spicy seeds, parsley, capers and chives. We peppered and paprikaed it, salted and spiced it, then spread it thicker than butter on pumpernickel and went to it. That's Liptauer Garniert.




1 of 2
2 of 2