Tuesday, January 25, 2011
For the love of Brie
Once upon a long ago, I took a field trip with my school* to The Cheese Factory. We toured the facilities** to watch how cheese is made and at the end, you get to taste all the cheese they make. It was fascinating, and I remember going back with my family several times. One of the rooms had the foulest smell, and that's where my brother taught me how to breathe through just my mouth so I didn't have to smell it. Other than the tasting of cheese made just feet away from where I was standing, that's my strongest memory of the place--the smell of the curing room. I don't remember all the kinds of cheese but I do know that this is where I learned to love brie. I was... 6, maybe 7 years old that first trip. I know I tried brie & camembert. From that moment on, brie was my favorite cheese... but not my favorite in the way of "I only want to eat this cheese forever and ever". That's the kind of favorite that cheddar is, awkward sentence structure aside. Brie is my favorite like a party dress. You don't get to wear it all the time but when you do it's so much better.
On Sunday I had the opportunity to visit the Apothecary Cafe & Wine Bar in Austin where we celebrated my sister-in-law's birthday with cheese.
Sure, there was other food present, and some wine, but really... it was all about the cheese. We ordered a cheese board and discussed what the heck "charcuterie" meant. There was brie with these divine little grapes that had been marinated in balsamic vinegar and honey, then halved and placed delicately around the brie, like diamonds with your party dress. Fantastic! The grapes tasted just like a winery smells--sweet and grapey with oak and the twang of fermentation. The brie was quietly delicious, an unassuming little black dress. There was also some buffalo mozzarella with sun dried tomatoes and feta with olives too. They were also good, but next to the brie... well, it was very much like putting a grackle and a dove next to a peacock.
So, after an appetizer of brie, I decided it just wasn't enough. I didn't want to put the party dress away just yet. So I ordered a brie, pear and honey panini sandwich. Brie, pears, and honey. Anything about that sound bad? Nope, didn't think so. Creamy, crisp, sweet, crunchy...it was all the adjectives of joy.
My favorite party-dress brie is made by a darling friend who is the epitome of Kitchen Witch. She grows her own herbs and fresh vegetables and can turn a ham bone into a fabulous meal without breaking a sweat. In the glorious fall months, she takes a little round of beautiful, creamy, tangy brie and wraps it gently in dough with as much care as any mother ever swaddled a precious baby. Then she shoves the thing in the oven until it's golden brown, like bimbos on a beach, and smothers it in homemade preserves...like cheese covered in jam... because it is. What this really means is that my friend loves me through cheese.
However, I have a confession to make. I do not like all the cheeses. I am a picky cheese eater. I'm not really picky about what kind of milk it's made from. I like goat cheese and had sheep cheese once that was pretty tasty. I prefer soft cheese to hard cheese and white or orange cheese to bleu cheese. Actually, I don't really like bleu cheese at all, even the kinds that are more green than blue. Gorgonzola and I are friendly, but that's really where my association with truly stinky cheese ends. Feta and I aren't even on speaking terms and it's a white cheese. I keep trying the stinky cheeses, hoping that my tastes will change so I can experience the bliss I see on the faces of my friends and family as they savor bleu cheese with honeycomb, little chunks of it sprinkled over a beautifully cooked steak or tossed in with salad. I do try. I smell it and try to convince myself that it won't taste like mold and dirt and sweaty feet this time. I think rich, earthy, foodie type thoughts. So far I have been unsuccessful in enjoying it. I've tolerated it, not noticed it, or muscled through it. Enjoyment is still elusive, but I am persistent in my attempts. Olives are also receiving the same treatment. Baby corns don't get even the slightest benefit of doubt. I will continue ignore them until they cease to exist. Yet even as I seek to expand my palate and cultivate new tastes and enjoy a broader spectrum of foods, brie remains my favorite of the cheeses--my pretty party dress of dairyness.
*I think it was my school... I really don't remember that first trip much
**Anyone who started singing Cake to themselves just then can award themselves 23 bonus points on the Canadian Dollar scale.