28 January 2008

Benito vs. the Cheese Board

I decided to lump a lot of cheese reviews into one post. While putting the finishing touches on this, I was watching Trekkies 2, the 2004 documentary that follows up on 1997's Trekkies. The films feature things like a Star Trek-themed dentist office, the Little Rock woman who demanded to wear her Lt. Commander uniform as a juror in the Whitewater trial, a guy who modified his home to resemble a Star Trek set, people who write erotic Trek fiction, and various folks who dress up their pets in uniform.

I'll admit it, I've read and watched a lot of science fiction in my day, and could probably answer an embarrassing number of Star Trek trivia questions, but I have a bit of pride in never having attended a convention wearing Spock ears. Then a British Star Trek fan was explaining the term anorak (a nerd who obsesses over one topic), and gave as an example someone who collects cheese labels. Like the Greek heroes of old, hubris brings my downfall.

White Stilton with Apricot from England. Made from white Stilton cheese that hasn't had the characteristic penicillin mold added to it. It's a fairly dry, crumbly cheese with a yogurt flavor. Good for the holidays but a bit of a mess as it turns into crumbs. White Stilton gets a lot of flak for being a watered-down version of its true blue ancestry, but there's times when these fruit-infused mild cheeses are fun. And they're not going to scare off folks who aren't fond of strong, aromatic cheeses.

Sage Derby is a sort of British white cheddar in which a sage-based herb mixture has been introduced between the curds. To the uninformed observer, this looks like a cheese that has gone well past the edible stage and deep into the High School Science Project realm. But it's not a strong, stinky, or moldy cheese, just a colorful one. I shared this with a pair of dames that don't touch the scary cheeses, yet they loved it. The cheese itself is quite mild, and the sage is restrained yet provides a refreshing counterpoint to the dairy flavor.

Fontinella is a nutty white Italian cheese derived from Fontina. It's fairly close to Swiss cheese in flavor and firmness, though there are no holes or air bubbles. It does have a clear white wax rind, which might not be noticed until you've chewed on a chunk of it. This cheese cries out for some ham or prosciutto.

Grana Padano, a hard Italian cheese. Not as popular as Parmigiano Reggiano or Romano, but it's a great cheese. Hard and suitable for grating, it has little calcium crystals in it that provide a pleasing crunch. While I enjoy it on its own before or after a meal, it can be used in many of the same applications as Parmigiano Reggiano.

Huntsman hails from England and is a carefully layered mix of Stilton and Double Gloucester. As a child, I remember being repulsed by a block of Kraft mild cheddar that had blue mold on one corner. Now I'm paying $10/lb for cheddar with a big chunk of moldy cheese in the middle. It's a nice contrast of flavors, the buttery Gloucester with the tangy Stilton.


Anonymous said...

Did you get these cheeses in Memphis? If so, where? I get to Nashville frequently on business and have been spoiled by the new Whole Foods cheese selection. Supposedly the conversion of Wild Oats should be fantastic (according to the meat guy at the WF Nashville who's from Memphis).

Benito said...

I don't recall where I got each cheese, but some good places in Memphis are as follows:

The Kroger at Germantown and Trinity in Cordova. Seriously, check it out, they have an awesome selection, and you can buy as much or as little as you desire. They've also got an incredible international section including a rack of Polish imports. Where else in Memphis can you find that?

Wild Oats on Sanderlin.

Fresh Market on White Station.

Mantia's on Poplar.

Costco in Cordova (members only, and you have to be willing to buy a pound at a time, but it's damned good cheese).

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Benito. Fresh Market disappoints. Costco is better (at least for parm and soft french cows milks). Mantia's is decent to good depending on what they can get (but I've gotten a lot of "we can't get that"). I've heard good things about Wild Oats and I have high expectations since the Whole Foods merger that they will upgrade. May hit that at lunch today. As far as Germantown and Trinity, I'm in Nashville more than I'm in that neck of the woods (unless I'm at Tortugas and it's still another 20 minutes from there due to stoplights/traffic).

Thanks very much for the info and love the blog.


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