It’s been a while in coming, but here is the second installment in my Ode to Cheese. Way back in Chapter One, I promised we could cover Ricotta Salata, Feta, fresh Motz and Cotija- but since I’m on a stinky-cheese bender at the moment, those are a little too young for the current vibe.
Fresh in cheese lingo doesn’t necessarily mean young- In cheese-speak, a young cheese is one that has not been aged for more than a few weeks. A cream or cottage or even some Brie, is a young cheese An 18 month old Regianno is a fresh cheese, but not a young one. See?
Some basics for the cheese-lovers among us: Serve your cheese at room temperature- the flavors are muted and the textures are incorrect when the cheese is cold from the icebox. Oh, and on that note, never freeze your cheese (yes, there are a few varieties that can handle it, but not many, so for the sake of ease, just make it a big no-no). Start your cheese eating with the mildest, youngest cheeses you have chosen, moving to the stronger and more aged varieties.
If at all possible, buy your cheeses from a cheese-monger. Almost without fail, the cheese at the large markets are mass-produced and sealed in plastic wrap. Plastic wrap doesn’t allow your cheese to breathe, and cheese is a living thing; the mold and cultures that give each specimen it’s unique taste and texture do not fare well in an oxygen-free environment. That said, have your cheese cut fresh from the larger chunks at your mongers, and usually wrapped in waxed paper or a special cheese paper- it protects them from too much oxidation, but allows them to breathe too.
Purists do not accompany the cheese with anything, which is fine, but it’s also fine to have some grain crackers or chewy bread to pair. If you really want to go all out, or if you are just dipping your toe into the fine cheese world, pear slices or grapes with some pecans or other fine nut can be a nice accompaniment and cut the flavor of some of the more pungent varieties.
Today, it’s all about Stilton. Mmmmm. My mouth tingles just thinking about it- Stilton is a complex little symphony in your mouth. How something can be creamy, pungent, sweet, rich and mellow all at once, I will never understand, but Stilton achieves the impossible. Two things about Stilton- save it for the last cheese you are eating, and don’t eat the rind. Some rinds are meant to be eaten- Stilton is not one of them.
Stilton is still made exclusively in Britain, in the counties of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire from local milk. Only seven dairies, using the original centuries-old recipe, are licensed to produce the cheese. It is the only British cheese graced with its own certification trademark.
Lighter than Gorgonzola, richer than Danish blue and more intense than regular blues, Britain’s Stilton is meltable, and it’s full-rounded qualities, if you’re not a purist, can enliven salads, meat, vegetable and fruit dishes.
Personally, I like it straight, with only a cracker or a hearty sliver of bread to carry the flavor. This isn’t a cheese for the faint of heart, but if you like strong cheese, this one may make you faint with delight!