03 September 2006

Cheese Plate

Dinner tonight didn't involve any wine, but I was just using up odds and ends from the kitchen. Some grilled chicken sausage and corn on the cob, a baguette, fresh tomatoes, and hey, some cheese would be nice... While digging through the fridge I realized that I had six decent cheeses on hand. A, B, and C were enjoyed before dinner; D, E, and F afterwards.

A. Parmigiano Reggiano (Italy)
Nothing too special here, you all know it and love it. This particular wedge wasn't too appetizing in chunk form, though it grates beaufifully.

B. Extra Sharp Cheddar (Wisconsin)
This isn't just your standard orange "rat cheese", this is 18-month old extra sharp cheddar. It makes you crave things like roasted potatoes, apple pie... It's unfortunate that most of the cheddar consumed in this country is bland and mild and eaten in massive quantities.

C. Fresh Mozzarella (California)
This is cow's milk rather than water buffalo, but it's still tasty. If you've got fresh tomatoes and basil growing at home, it's a crime not to keep some fresh mozzarella on hand.

D. Applewood Smoked Cheddar (Wisconsin)
Pleasantly sharp, with a subdued smoke flavor and a deliciously spicy rind. Rather like the dry rub that we use on ribs down here in Memphis. I'm not historically a fan of smoked cheeses; Dad loved the stuff when I was young and while I would always try a slice (typically smoked cheddar or Gouda), I never liked it. The smoke flavor was too harsh, and the cheese often had the texture of plastic. This cheese, however, is delicious, and has been a big pleaser amongst my friends. (For those fearful of veins of mold, it's only on the edges. For the rest of us: extra flavor!)

E. Grana Padano (Italy)
Can be used in a manner similar to Parmigiano Reggiano, but tastes incredible on its own. Nice and crumbly, very dry. With the more expensive, older, stravecchio versions of this cheese, you can feel the crunch of little salt crystals as you chew. Wonderful grated over good pasta or used as a stuffing enhancer in something like ravioli.

F. Drunken Goat (Spain)
Wow. Much firmer than what you normally think of as goat cheese, but still a little soft. It's soaked in Doble Pasta wine for up to three days. All of the sharpness is gone, and instead it mellows out into a ricotta-like flavor, though not a soft and spongy texture. The elements of the wine really show through... It's a rare delight; it feels like eating cheese and drinking wine at the same time, with just a hint of an aftertaste like you've just taken a sip of sherry.

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