…it has been many weeks since my last blog entry. And my last blog entry was a bit of a cheat since it 1) had nothing to do with food, 2) had no text in the body and, 3) was just a picture of our fiberglass shark, Frank, wrapped in Christmas lights.
Urging me into confession today are several of my former classmates from my FCI Blogging Class that got me into this whole mess to start with. Under the tutelage of Blog Deity Steven Shaw, our merry band of Eat & Tell-aholics became real life bloggers, supporting each other’s daily posts with both feedback and love. We were masters of the compliment sandwich: “I loved the picture of your pet shark; I wasn’t exactly sure what that had to do with food?; you really did a great job wrapping lights around his hammer-head.” It was almost a year ago that we started this adventure together and I hear through the grapevine that a new class is about to start next month. It has me nostalgic.
I was once a blogging machine, posting everyday to not just this blog, but the Cooking Issues blog. Then something happened – I hit 100 posts and thought, “Ahhh, well now I deserve a break!” In my free time, I got a job at Murray’s Cheese, and then I picked up another job at Murray’s Cheese while neglecting to give my old job away! What a brilliant idea! (If you missed the boatload of sarcasm there, I have only myself to blame for not keeping you seasoned to my typarcasm)
Well, it’s a new year, I’ve got a new job, and hell, it’s time for a new me! (Yup, there it is again) I’m going to start blogging again and I promise to blog every… er… um… well, let’s just start with month for now and I’ll work back up? Since my life consists of being at Murray’s, a lot of my posts (in the near-term) will probably be about cheese. Cheese, chocolate, and some form of meat. I might throw a vegetable in here or there just for good measure – something like a fondue-smothered piece of asparagus. Or a waffle fry covered in fluorescent cheese and sprinkled with pickled jalapeno… Still counts in my book!
So to kick off the new year, I’m going to tell you all about a little shop in London called Neal’s Yard Dairy. And by little, I mean ICONIC. I would love to say that Murray’s is the American version of Neal’s Yard, but we just are not there yet. Neal’s Yard is THE affineur and essentially distributor/exporter of English Cheeses. This week, the American Sales team of Jason Hinds & Raef Hodgson were kind enough to stop in at Murray’s and teach a class for us all about “The Territorials,” English cheeses that all made in a similar style that helps to really boost the acidity in cheeses. Sometimes that acidity can be called “sharpness,” but it’s basically mouth-watering, tangy-good stuff. These cheeses are more hearty and refreshing than funky and lingering. They’re the type of cheeses that you imagine sitting in at least a 2lb chunk in a cool, country kitchen on a well-worn butcher’s block, waiting for someone in a chunky, cable-knit sweater to come in and hack a piece off with a mottled knife and throw it with a hunk of bread into a handkerchief before heading outside to brave the misty, English countryside.
Yes. You’re right. Perhaps I have seen one-too-many BBC soap operas. Actually, it’s really more like I grew up watching one-too-many episodes of Two Fat Ladies (one day, I truly hope to be the fat one in the sidecar – she had the best gig in the world). Regardless, cheese has a way of transporting you and helping you travel around the world from the comfort of your kitchen table (read: my couch with a plate on my stomach, 1/4 lb of cheese, and a paring knife). You can TASTE the land, the rain, the care that goes into a good artisanal cheese and that’s magical. It’s nothing short of experiencing that moment in Ratatouille (yes, the cartoon – that IS the type of blog you are reading) when Ego, the food critic, takes a bite of ratatouille and is immediately transported back to his mother’s kitchen. Except instead, for Americans such as myself that grew up without easy access to artisan cheese, you’re transported to places that you’ve visited, read about, or watched on the old boob tube.
Jason & Raef spoke about how cheeses such as Caerphilly were made for coal miners and were designed into a thick format with delicious acidity, ripening into mushroomy gooeyness near the rind, in order to provide a good meal for miners who essentially ate at their desks… Imagine if your desk were deep underground and covered in coal dust? I think you’d like a good bit of tangy cheese, too. Having never been to a coal mine, I still adore Caerphilly and consider it one of my favorite cheeses. It’s like being served a giant, homemade slice of savory cake – its driest, crumbly cake layer in the center being lemony and bright, melding into the outer cake layers that have been softened (ripened) into earthy unctuousness the way that a heavily frosted cake becomes sticky where the cake and frosting meet.
Basically, the cheese is DAMN good. And when Jason & Raef came, they brought some with them for us to use in class! Sadly, I don’t have a picture of it because I ate most of what wasn’t plated for students. And by most of it, I do mean ALL of it. Down to the rind, it’s a fabulous cheese that I could eat 1/2 lb at a time. What??? Don’t judge! What I was able to grab a picture of is 2.6 lbs of Red Leicester… the reason is that I am currently in possession of 2.6 lbs of Red Leicester!!! Awwwwww yeahhhhhhhh! That, my friends, is what I call a “cheese haul.” Direct from Neal’s Yard in London (but available at Murray’s as well), it’s made from raw cow’s milk and legend has it is one of the oldest cheese-styles in existence. Sure, it looks like cheddar, and it does have the nice acidity that a good cheddar has, but there’s something unique and distinctive about the lemony, citrus flavor that is wrapped in this incredible, cut-grass earthiness, and beautiful nutty-finish. It’s got a crumbly, yet smooshable texture and is apparently great toasted up according to Raef, who happens to also be the son of Neal’s Yard Dairy’s owner, Randolph Hodgson. As an aside, I’ve nicknamed him “Cheesus,” for he is the son of the Cheese God.
English cheeses are almost like pastries to me. They’re so pleasing. Something about the way the acidity cuts savoriness, the brightness of the cheese that makes the milk really come through, and the lack of intense pungency makes it satisfying in the way that a beautiful, not too sweet, panna cotta does. This 2.6lb clothbound confection is going to be my dessert for quite sometime if I keep it wrapped in cheese paper in my vegetable drawer… Well, knowing me, it will at least keep me satisfied for the next week.
Thanks for reading and for the occasional, “Where the hell are you?” email:) Happy belated 2010!