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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Singing The Bluhs

I was becoming more obnoxious than Charlie Trotter at a Foie Gras fest hosted by Rick Tramonto. So I had to stop drinking.

I'm now self-medicating with a chunk or two of Roquefort Carles each night. It's an expensive habit that's hard to break, but at least it doesn't make me say or do anything stupid.

Blue cheese is the new chocolate, at least in my little corner of the world. I can't get enough of it, especially French blue cheeses. What I'm talkin' bout Willis is a little style of blue, or bleu (which when you switch places with the e and u, becomes "bluh"), cheese called Roquefort (say "roke-FORE").

As you know, not all cheeses are created equal and even good cheeses can be spoiled by handling, age, and exposure. So it's been quite a challenge to find a good, imported blue cheese. Whole Paycheck is my source for cheese since I live close by, but I've been meaning to check out a few other places in the city.

If you were to ask me what my favorite blue cheese is, it would have to be Roquefort Carles, followed by Roquefort Societé, then Bleu d'Auvergne, then Gorgonzola (not really maker specific yet). Roquefort Carles isn't really "blue", but is speckled with pockets of green mold, is creamy, but easily broken into chunks, salty, and sometimes slightly watery. Societé comes close, but the bold, sophisticated flavor isn't as pronounced, though it is less salty. I often think of Societé as a poor man's Carles, since it's usually less expensive. Bleu d'Auvergne is semi-solid, hardier cheese, but with the same classic blue cheese punch. While Carles and Societé are bone white with specks of green and made from sheep's milk, Bleu d'Auvergne, made from cow's milk, has a yellowish tinge and a rind, while the other two are protected by tin foil.

Roquefort Carles (L), Bleu d'Auvergne (R)

The only problem I've experience with Bleu d'Auvergne is that sometimes after I've purchased it and brought it home, it has a slight ammonia flavor. That doesn't mean it's "bad", and I've found that letting it "air out" uncovered and then discarding the old wrapping, re-wrapping it in new plastic wrap, will clear up the problem. I usually serve Roquefort Carles or Societé to friends as a postprandial delicacy, that is, when we actually have company (it's getting rare). Or when I need something really comforting late at night, I reach for the Roquefort Carles instead of the ice cream. Bleu d'Auvergne is a great cheese used to flavor things like salads, on pasta, on toasted bread, etc. And it's swell on its own (which when you switch places with the w and the n, becomes "on-wuh").

Really, you have to believe that I would'n't have spoken this way about blue cheese several years ago.

Growing up, I had the same aversion that many people I know have towards blue cheese. This was unfortunate, since my only real taste of "blue cheese" at that point was Kraft blue cheese dressing, which seemed so alien to my Thousand Island-laden taste buds that I put it on my food enemies list without thinking twice. One of my earliest food memories is sitting in an elementary school cafeteria in Morganton, North Carolina mixing a packet of ketchup and a packet of mayonnaise together to dip my French fries in to. This was my gerry-rigged Thousand Island dressing. Now that I'm an adult, I don't drown my salads in Thousand Island dressing (it's rare that I even touch the stuff), or despise Mac and Cheese, or vomit at the thought of Cole Slaw. And now that I know what real blue cheese tastes like, I don't hate that either. In fact, there are so many foods I wouldn't touch as a kid, that now I love.

I mention this only to highlight my own values change in food. Yes, we do have food values, and I've found that values you place in food often correlate with values you hold in general. Often our food values represent the values of the dominant culture. That culture loves the flat, convenient, reptilian-brain flavors that invokes a beloved Aunt, but distrusts cerebral, complex, assertive flavors that invokes a French commie with a lisp. Some folks (often stupid men) will burn their mouths (and later on, other things, things I like to call "the ring of fire") with fiery chili by engaging in a common form of gastro-machismo and half-hearted sadomasochism. But then these same "tough guys" cower, like shrinking violets, at the thought of raw fish on their tongue. Some even brand certain foods "un-American" (Freedom Fries, anyone?). This is truly food poisoning. In fact, it's a real pain in my Middle American Trench.

I believe more and more that how we think of food is how we think of the world, perhaps even how we think of ourselves. Do we only eat the food of our particular ethnic tribe, reflecting our own brand of isolationism, or do we refuse to eat foods of other ethnic groups to reflect our racism and/or xenophobia? Do we always want to be comforted with the "safe", the bland, and the known, prompting us to choose Subway over the small business owner who makes her own unique sandwiches? Or do we see ourselves as constantly seeking knowledge, about food, about others, and about ourselves?

For a look at those who think and eat like the latter, come to San Francisco and be proud. Today I was in a new boulangerie called the Brioche Bakery eating what most tough chili eaters would complain about as being too strong: a "brioche pizza" with gruyere, anchovies, carmelized onions, and water-cured black olives. Sitting by the window, I noticed how many people came in, just out of curiosity. Though I could tell that most were locals, mostly office workers, you could call them gastro-tourists or even gastro-adventurers.

Brioche Bakery/Boulangerie

Many were fully excited about trying something new and all who came in bought something to try, no matter how small. As well, if they hadn't, I would've recommended that they should, because it is a truly nice development in that part of Columbus and the baked products look (and taste) exceptional. The Pain au Levain is a flavorful, whole-wheat (and I think rye and white flour) loaf with a dark brown, chewy crust and a soft, slightly moist and cool, airy, crumb that smacks of goodness. An apple tartlette (a mini Tarte Tatin) there will convert all but the most extreme of apple tart haters. The cheese croquettes, baked cheesy hollow dough balls, are addictive. And I can't wait to try more. But, I'll definitely be back for the apple tartlette, and maybe I'll bring a little Roquefort with me to sprinkle on top!

Ummm, just thinking about it….



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your writing is great! The first paragraph made me almost squirt tea through my nose!

12:20 AM  
Anonymous Seth said...

Leave all that francophile
nonsense aside- c'mon over
to the east bay and we'll grab
some Neal's Yard Stilton or
real gorgonzola at the Cheese
Board Collective. Okay, yeah
the French make good cheeze,
but c'mon over and we'll wallow
in mold.

3:24 PM  

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