Cheese is one of those foods people go crazy about, and I get it – salty, buttery, dry, pungent, smooth, sharp, gritty and sweet. Cheese has so many varieties and characteristics, a plethora of options. When I was 20, my complexion was going crazy and I went to see a naturopath. He suggested I do a detox and remove all reactive or heat producing food from my diet. We’ve all done or heard of this, and I was desperate for clear skin, so I did as prescribed and stopped eating dairy. It didn’t completely perfect my skin, but I didn’t miss it and I felt great! So I didn’t eat cheese for five years. I would, of course, eat the occasional quesadilla or ice-cream, but these occasions were few and far between. Then two things happened. I met my boyfriend who LOVES good cheese. He could (and sometimes does) survive on cheese and baguette; the Frenchman’s diet. The second thing that happened was I went to India. This might turn some people away from milk when you’re watching the same cow eat from a dumpster for eight hours, but I stayed at a wonderful yoga retreat center and we had amazing Ayurvedic vegetarian meals prepared (with fresh produce! – a rarity in India). I had the best masala chai of my life. A little mug of this magical elixir and I was chatarunga-ing all morning long. The dairy didn’t give me that filmy feeling and honestly, I felt less depleted than I had in years.
When I got back to the states, I ventured into the unknown of our domestic dairy industry, vowing to only buy organic milk and good cheese. Cheap, commodity cheese can have fillers like corn starch, or loose much of their punch if pre-grated/shredded/shaved/etc. Granted cheese can be quite pricy, but that’s the point of eating something quality, even if it’s only a bite. This brings me to my favorite tool in the kitchen. The Microplane, a glorious invention. Gritty and hard Parmigianino Reggiano is transformed to a fluffy cloud of salty lemony goodness. A few slides across the microplane and a fried egg is not JUST a fried egg. It’s gourmet, baby! Your cheese will stretch so much further than you ever dreamed, plus every bite will be blessed with cheesiness.
Here’s my advice: ask questions and try some thing new. If you like brie, for example, ask the deli about their recommendations. Your best luck is to talk to the manager or cheese buyer. Buy the smallest piece you can find and let it come to room temperature for 30-45 minutes. It will open like a fine wine. Try a little on its own, then get creative. Brie on toast, brie on eggs, hell – brie on steak! Start experimenting, enjoy it, and your meal will suddenly be transformed into something out of the ordinary. It’s not about eating a truckload of cheese; it’s about enhancing your food with something a little decadent. Many grocery stores cut their own cheese from large wheels they import or buy domestically. This is the freshest and most flavorful way to enjoy cheese, so ask if any are newly cut or cracked. Also, some deli’s will have a little basket with nice small pieces to buy, probably 2-4 bites worth, but enough to taste without making an $8.00 investment on something you won’t eat. Make a little cheese board of 3-4 mini pieces of cheese and write down your favorites. Personally, I don’t buy processed or pre-shredded cheese; I think the flavor and texture are completely altered, but don’t let a domestic or a shorter aging-process turn you away. There are plenty of tasty varieties made in Wisconsin, California, Washington and Oregon that won’t make you miss your mortgage payment. Experiment, ask questions and have fun!