12 May 2008

Benito vs. the Cheese Board: Round Three

Like the Eighty Years' War (1568 - 1648), this post involves the Dutch, Spanish, and English. If I'd been particularly creative I could have recreated certain key battles using cubes of the cheese and historical dioramas. I hope that a few standard photos of wedges will suffice.

Naked Goat is, as you might imagine, a goat cheese. It hails from Spain where it goes by the local name queso de Murcia curado. Purchasing this was one of those slightly anxious moments in the grocery store when I sincerely hoped that a price check was not needed. I could just imagine the following blared over the intercom: "PRICE CHECK ON NAKED GOAT... WE GOT A GUY WITH NAKED GOAT HERE..." This is a firm goat cheese, close in texture to a standard Swiss cheese. In addition to the texture and a slight nutty characteristic, you get classic goat cheese flavors, if not as sharp as fresh chevre.

Cablanca is a Dutch Gouda variant made with goat's milk. Firm but not crumbly or hard with a nice tangy quality. A refreshing change of pace on the cheese plate, and if you're interested in all the many goat versions of your favorite cheeses, just Google "goat _____" and somebody out there makes it. In general I don't eat a lot of Dutch cheese. I respect the love of Edam and Gouda, but the aromas of each draw me back to a trip to Amsterdam. I had a great time there (museums and art galleries rather than hookers and pot), but I vividly recall walking past a cheese shop and being overwhelmed by a blast of warm, funky air. Think back to high school and the bag of gym clothes you accidentally left in the back of your locker for a month.

The British Cheese Board tells us that Red Leicester is "a good partner for beer". Not "enjoy this with a pint o' your best bitter and a heap of bangers and mash" nor "works well with a firm stout and a bit of toad in the hole", merely chow down on this while drinking beer. I had entirely different motivations. After the crazy, surrealist dreams induced by English Stilton, I figured I would attempt to induce dreams of my past with this product. I had a chunk of Red Leicester each night for four consecutive nights and didn't manage to produce a nostalgic dream. Maybe it only works if you ate it in the past? Flavor-wise, Red Leicester is virtually indistinguishable from a sharp cheddar. It was good, but if I want a great cheddar experience I'll get something aged from Vermont or Wisconsin.

Spain's most popular cheese, Manchego, is made from sheep's milk, and I've covered many goat cheeses from the country as well. But the second most popular cheese is a cow's milk queso called Mahón. It's produced on Minorca, one of the Balearic Islands off the east coast of Spain. My particular sample was fairly young, meaning that it was still a little soft, creamy, and nutty. Kind of like a cross between mild white cheddar and brie. Excellent with fresh fruit and a sparkling white like Cava. Maybe some olives and anchovies, and prosciutto and assorted tapas fare.

Hey, let's finish things off with a pink cheese. No, it didn't come with a Hello Kitty label as part of a tea party kit aimed at five year old girls. Rather it's the stodgy-sounding Windsor Red from the Long Clawson Dairy in Bottesford, England. It's based off a sharp pale cheddar that is flavored with a little Port and brandy. But the color doesn't come from the Port: rather it is produced by cochineal, a vibrant red pigment made from pulverized bugs native to Mexico. For anyone repulsed by eating dried cactus parasites, relax. Cochineal is used in all sorts of things, including cosmetics. When a woman reapplies her lipstick after dinner and, perhaps, leaves a red smudge on your cheek at the end of the evening, Miss Manners suggests that you do not describe the biological origin of that coloring if you wish to enjoy repeat performances.

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