In this, the latest in my occasional “Six if the best” series of posts, I am going to look at something close to me heart: cheese. I have met people who do not like cheese; they seem to be a rare breed. I know lots of people who regard it as a commodity – just another food ingredient, like flour or sugar. But many people, who are close to me, share my view that cheese is one of the Good Things of Life.
Picking just six favorite cheeses was quite an ordeal …
In many European countries cheese is a big deal. In France, it is almost a religion and some cheeses and cheese making regions are treated with the veneration that wine commonly experiences. I reluctantly admit that the French do produce some of the finest cheeses in the world and some will feature in my Six. In the UK, we make less of a song and dance about it, but cheese is still a passion for many people.
I am not a cheese expert. I just like to sample different types and I have some firm favorites. There are very few cheeses that I can say I do not like – cottage cheese is the notable example in the Just Say No camp. I always enjoy buying cheese directly from cheese makers, when the opportunity arises, because they can give guidance on how to best enjoy their product. At some point [soon!] I would like at attend a cheese making course – maybe even start making some regularly. But, for the moment, telling you about a few favorites will have to suffice.
Choosing just 6 was hard. I decided to constrain myself to just 2 British and 2 French cheeses, which just made it harder. So, in no particular order …
The everyday “go to” cheese for most people in the UK [and many other countries] is Cheddar in some form or another. Cheddar is a place in the west of England, but I have never encountered any cheese that actually comes from there. Most Cheddar is industrially produced in various strengths and can be an OK filling for a sandwich or for cooking. I have rarely encountered any that is truly unacceptable. However, there are some very fine Cheddar cheeses available, if you are prepared to look [and pay!] for them. As I see it, there are broadly two types of fine Cheddar. Some are quite creamy in texture – a good example is Black Bomber, which is made in Wales. Others have an almost crunchy texture, as there are tiny crystals of salt in it – my favorite example of Lincolnshire Poacher, which comes from a northern part of England [see the story linked at the end of this posting].
Blue cheese is something of an acquired taste, as the flavors are often are often more powerful. In the UK, the “classic” blue cheese is Stilton, which is traditionally very popular at Christmas. The best Stiltons come from the northern part of England. I recently purchased some very ugly looking cheese which was Stilton made with unpasteurized milk. Technically, it could not be called Stilton as the name is regulated and only applies to cheese made with pasteurized milk. This hand-made cheese was quite expensive, but really delicious – I pigged it all at one sitting [about $8-worth of cheese!], but I could not restrain myself.
Cheese may not be the first product that comes to mind if you think of Spain, but Manchego is an excellent example from that country. This cheese, made from the milk of manchega sheep, is always aged for at least a couple of months, but the best may have matured for years. It can be eaten as it is or cooked, being used commonly in tapas. The cheese comes from the La Mancha region of Spain, which is also home to Don Quixote. Maybe that adds to the appeal.
Dutch cheese is well known, but mainly for milder flavored products, which can be delicious in a delicate way. Some Dutch cheeses are also matured to increase the intensity of their flavor and Gouda is one where this commonly applies. I enjoy the contrast in style with British and French cheeses. Pronunciation of Dutch words is a challenge [for me] and the names of cheeses are no exception. As far as I can tell, the correct way to say it is something like “how-dah”.
Although it has a concentrated flavor, somehow Roquefort always seems milder than Stilton to me. Maybe it is because it is made with sheep’s milk. In any case, when I first tried it it was “je t’aime” at first bite. Sadly, some cheaper, more industrial variants of the cheese seem to just taste very salty and lose the creamy elegance of the real thing
Some people who know me well might accuse me of keeping the best until last. Époisses is a wonderful soft, very smelly cheese made in the Burgundy region of France. It is a very soft cheese, which becomes more and more runny as it is kept. Perhaps it is best eaten with a spoon. It is a “love it or hate it” cheese, but I guess you know where I stand. It just occurred to me that we will be visiting friends in this region in a few weeks. I may need to go shopping …
I always like a good story and, as cheese figures significantly in my life, you might expect me to have a cheese-oriented tale to tell. I do and I posted it here some time ago. Enjoy.