The Complete Book of Cheese
Illustrations by Eric Blegvad
_Gramercy Publishing Company
New York_ 1955
THE WINE COOK BOOK
SALADS AND HERBS
THE SOUTH AMERICAN COOK BOOK
SOUPS, SAUCES AND GRAVIES
THE VEGETABLE COOK BOOK
LOOK BEFORE YOU COOK!
THE EUROPEAN COOK BOOK
THE WINING AND DINING QUIZ
MOST FOR YOUR MONEY
FISH AND SEAFOOD COOK BOOK
THE COUNTRY COOK BOOK
Co-author of Food and Drink Books by The Browns
LET THERE BE BEER!
1 I Remember Cheese
2 The Big Cheese
3 Foreign Greats
4 Native Americans
5 Sixty-five Sizzling Rabbits
6 The Fondue
7 Souffles, Puffs and Ramekins
8 Pizzas, Blintzes, Pastes and Cheese Cake
9 Au Gratin, Soups, Salads and Sauces
10 Appetizers, Crackers, Sandwiches, Savories, Snacks, Spreads and Toasts
11 "Fit for Drink"
12 Lazy Lou
APPENDIX—The A-B-Z of Cheese
INDEX OF RECIPES
I Remember Cheese
Cheese market day in a town in the north of Holland. All the cheese-fanciers are out, thumping the cannon-ball Edams and the millstone Goudas with their bare red knuckles, plugging in with a hollow steel tool for samples. In Holland the business of judging a crumb of cheese has been taken with great seriousness for centuries. The abracadabra is comparable to that of the wine-taster or tea-taster. These Edamers have the trained ear of music-masters and, merely by knuckle-rapping, can tell down to an air pocket left by a gas bubble just how mature the interior is.
The connoisseurs use gingerbread as a mouth-freshener; and I, too, that sunny day among the Edams, kept my gingerbread handy and made my way from one fine cheese to another, trying out generous plugs from the heaped cannon balls that looked like the ammunition dump at Antietam.
I remember another market day, this time in Lucerne. All morning I stocked up on good Schweizerkaese and better Gruyere. For lunch I had cheese salad. All around me the farmers were rolling two-hundred-pound Emmentalers, bigger than oxcart wheels. I sat in a little cafe, absorbing cheese and cheese lore in equal quantities. I learned that a prize cheese must be chock-full of equal-sized eyes, the gas holes produced during fermentation. They must glisten like polished bar glass. The cheese itself must be of a light, lemonish yellow. Its flavor must be nutlike. (Nuts and Swiss cheese complement each other as subtly as Gorgonzola and a ripe banana.) There are, I learned, "blind" Swiss cheeses as well, but the million-eyed ones are better.
But I don't have to hark back to Switzerland and Holland for cheese memories. Here at home we have increasingly taken over the cheeses of all nations, first importing them, then imitating them, from Swiss Engadine to what we call Genuine Sprinz. We've naturalized Scandinavian Blues and smoked browns and baptized our own Saaland Pfarr in native whiskey. Of fifty popular Italian types we duplicate more than half, some fairly well, others badly.
We have our own legitimate offspring too, beginning with the Pineapple, supposed to have been first made about 1845 in Litchfield County, Connecticut. We have our own creamy Neufchatel, New York Coon, Vermont Sage, the delicious Liederkranz, California Jack, Nuworld, and dozens of others, not all quite so original.
And, true to the American way, we've organized cheese-eating. There's an annual cheese week, and a cheese month (October). We even boast a mail-order Cheese-of-the-Month Club. We haven't yet reached the point of sophistication, however, attained by a Paris cheese club that meets regularly. To qualify for membership you have to identify two hundred basic cheeses, and you have to do it blindfolded.
This is a test I'd prefer not to submit to, but in my amateur way I have during the past year or two been sharpening my cheese perception with whatever varieties I could encounter around New York. I've run into briny Caucasian Cossack, Corsican Gricotta, and exotics like Rarush Durmar, Travnik, and Karaghi La-la. Cheese-hunting is one of the greatest—and least competitively crowded—of sports. I hope this book may lead others to give it a try.
The Big Cheese
One of the world's first outsize cheeses officially weighed in at four tons in a fair at Toronto, Canada, seventy years ago. Another monstrous Cheddar tipped the scales at six tons in the New York State Fair at Syracuse in 1937.
Before this, a one-thousand-pounder was fetched all the way from New Zealand to London to star in the Wembley Exposition of 1924. But, compared to the outsize Syracusan, it looked like a Baby Gouda. As a matter of fact, neither England nor any of her great dairying colonies have gone in for mammoth jobs, except Canada, with that four-tonner shown at Toronto.
We should mention two historic king-size Chesters. You can find out all about them in Cheddar Gorge, edited by Sir John Squire. The first of them weighed 149 pounds, and was the largest made, up to the year 1825. It was proudly presented to H.R.H. the Duke of York. (Its heft almost tied the 147-pound Green County wheel of Wisconsin Swiss presented by the makers to President Coolidge in 1928 in appreciation of his raising the protective tariff against genuine Swiss to 50 percent.) While the cheese itself weighed a mite under 150, His Royal Highness, ruff, belly, knee breeches, doffed high hat and all, was a hundred-weight heavier, and thus almost dwarfed it.
It was almost a century later that the second record-breaking Chester weighed in, at only 200 pounds. Yet it won a Gold Medal and a Challenge Cup and was presented to the King, who graciously accepted it. This was more than Queen Victoria had done with a bridal gift cheese that tipped the scales at 1,100 pounds. It took a whole day's yield from 780 contented cows, and stood a foot and eight inches high, measuring nine feet, four inches around the middle. The assembled donors of the cheese were so proud of it that they asked royal permission to exhibit it on a round of country fairs. The Queen assented to this ambitious request, perhaps prompted by the exhibition-minded Albert. The publicity-seeking cheesemongers assured Her Majesty that the gift would be returned to her just as soon as it had been exhibited. But the Queen didn't want it back after it was show-worn. The donors began to quarrel among themselves about what to do with the remains, until finally it got into Chancery where so many lost causes end their days. The cheese was never heard of again.
While it is generally true that the bigger the cheese the better, (much the same as a magnum bottle of champagne is better than a pint), there is a limit to the obesity of a block, ball or brick of almost any kinds of cheese. When they pass a certain limit, they lack homogeneity and are not nearly so good as the smaller ones. Today a good magnum size for an exhibition Cheddar is 560 pounds; for a prize Provolone, 280 pounds; while a Swiss wheel of only 210 will draw crowds to any food-shop window.
Yet by and large it's the monsters that get into the Cheese Hall of Fame and come down to us in song and story. For example, that four-ton Toronto affair inspired a cheese poet, James McIntyre, who doubled as the local undertaker.
We have thee, mammoth cheese, Lying quietly at your ease; Gently fanned by evening breeze, Thy fair form no flies dare seize.
All gaily dressed soon you'll go To the greatest provincial show, To be admired by many a beau In the city of Toronto.
May you not receive a scar as We have heard that Mr. Harris Intends to send you off as far as The great world's show at Paris.
Of the youth beware of these, For some of them might rudely squeeze And bite your cheek; then song or glees We could not sing, oh, Queen of Cheese.
An ode to a one hundred percent American mammoth was inspired by "The Ultra-Democratic, Anti-Federalist Cheese of Cheshire." This was in the summer of 1801 when the patriotic people of Cheshire, Massachusetts, turned out en masse to concoct a mammoth cheese on the village green for presentation to their beloved President Jefferson. The unique demonstration occurred spontaneously in jubilant commemoration of the greatest political triumph of a new country in a new century—the victory of the Democrats over the Federalists. Its collective making was heralded in Boston's Mercury and New England Palladium, September 8, 1801:
The Mammoth Cheese
AN EPICO-LYRICO BALLAD
From meadows rich, with clover red, A thousand heifers come; The tinkling bells the tidings spread, The milkmaid muffles up her head, And wakes the village hum.
In shining pans the snowy flood Through whitened canvas pours; The dyeing pots of otter good And rennet tinged with madder blood Are sought among their stores.
The quivering curd, in panniers stowed, Is loaded on the jade, The stumbling beast supports the load, While trickling whey bedews the road Along the dusty glade.
As Cairo's slaves, to bondage bred, The arid deserts roam, Through trackless sands undaunted tread, With skins of water on their head To cheer their masters home,
So here full many a sturdy swain His precious baggage bore; Old misers e'en forgot their gain, And bed-rid cripples, free from pain, Now took the road before.
The widow, with her dripping mite Upon her saddle horn, Rode up in haste to see the sight And aid a charity so right, A pauper so forlorn.
The circling throng an opening drew Upon the verdant-grass To let the vast procession through To spread their rich repast in view, And Elder J. L. pass.
Then Elder J. with lifted eyes In musing posture stood, Invoked a blessing from the skies To save from vermin, mites and flies, And keep the bounty good.
Now mellow strokes the yielding pile From polished steel receives, And shining nymphs stand still a while, Or mix the mass with salt and oil, With sage and savory leaves.
Then sextonlike, the patriot troop, With naked arms and crown, Embraced, with hardy hands, the scoop, And filled the vast expanded hoop, While beetles smacked it down.
Next girding screws the ponderous beam, With heft immense, drew down; The gushing whey from every seam Flowed through the streets a rapid stream, And shad came up to town.
This spirited achievement of early democracy is commemorated today by a sign set up at the ancient and honorable town of Cheshire, located between Pittsfield and North Adams, on Route 8.
Jefferson's speech of thanks to the democratic people of Cheshire rings out in history: "I look upon this cheese as a token of fidelity from the very heart of the people of this land to the great cause of equal rights to all men."
This popular presentation started a tradition. When Van Buren succeeded to the Presidency, he received a similar mammoth cheese in token of the high esteem in which he was held. A monstrous one, bigger than the Jeffersonian, was made by New Englanders to show their loyalty to President Jackson. For weeks this stood in state in the hall of the White House. At last the floor was a foot deep in the fragments remaining after the enthusiastic Democrats had eaten their fill.
Ode to Cheese
God of the country, bless today Thy cheese, For which we give Thee thanks on bended knees. Let them be fat or light, with onions blent, Shallots, brine, pepper, honey; whether scent Of sheep or fields is in them, in the yard Let them, good Lord, at dawn be beaten hard. And let their edges take on silvery shades Under the moist red hands of dairymaids; And, round and greenish, let them go to town Weighing the shepherd's folding mantle down; Whether from Parma or from Jura heights, Kneaded by august hands of Carmelites, Stamped with the mitre of a proud abbess. Flowered with the perfumes of the grass of Bresse, From hollow Holland, from the Vosges, from Brie, From Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Italy! Bless them, good Lord! Bless Stilton's royal fare, Red Cheshire, and the tearful cream Gruyere.
FROM JETHRO BITHELL'S TRANSLATION OF A POEM BY M. Thomas Braun
Symphonie des Fromages
A giant Cantal, seeming to have been chopped open with an ax, stood aside of a golden-hued Chester and a Swiss Gruyere resembling the wheel of a Roman chariot There were Dutch Edams, round and blood-red, and Port-Saluts lined up like soldiers on parade. Three Bries, side by side, suggested phases of the moon; two of them, very dry, were amber-colored and "full," and the third, in its second quarter, was runny and creamy, with a "milky way" which no human barrier seemed able to restrain. And all the while majestic Roqueforts looked down with princely contempt upon the other, through the glass of their crystal covers.
In 1953 the United States Department of Agriculture published Handbook No. 54, entitled Cheese Varieties and Descriptions, with this comment: "There probably are only about eighteen distinct types or kinds of natural cheese." All the rest (more than 400 names) are of local origin, usually named after towns or communities. A list of the best-known names applied to each of these distinct varieties or groups is given:
Brick Gouda Romano Camembert Hand Roquefort Cheddar Limburger Sapsago Cottage Neufchatel Swiss Cream Parmesan Trappist Edam Provolone Whey cheeses (Mysost and Ricotta)
May we nominate another dozen to form our own Cheese Hall of Fame? We begin our list with a partial roll call of the big Blues family and end it with members of the monastic order of Port-Salut Trappist that includes Canadian Oka and our own Kentucky thoroughbred.
The Blues that Are Green
Stilton, Roquefort and Gorgonzola form the triumvirate that rules a world of lesser Blues. They are actually green, as green as the mythical cheese the moon is made of.
In almost every, land where cheese is made you can sample a handful of lesser Blues and imitations of the invincible three and try to classify them, until you're blue in the face. The best we can do in this slight summary is to mention a few of the most notable, aside from our own Blues of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon and other states that major in cheese.
Danish Blues are popular and splendidly made, such as "Flower of Denmark." The Argentine competes with a pampas-grass Blue all its own. But France and England are the leaders in this line, France first with a sort of triple triumvirate within a triumvirate—Septmoncel, Gex, and Sassenage, all three made with three milks mixed together: cow, goat and sheep. Septmoncel is the leader of these, made in the Jura mountains and considered by many French caseophiles to outrank Roquefort.
This class of Blue or marbled cheese is called fromage persille, as well as fromage bleu and pate bleue. Similar mountain cheeses are made in Auvergne and Aubrac and have distinct qualities that have brought them fame, such as Cantal, bleu d'Auvergne Guiole or Laguiole, bleu de Salers, and St. Flour. Olivet and Queville come within the color scheme, and sundry others such as Champoleon, Journiac, Queyras and Sarraz.
Of English Blues there are several celebrities beside Stilton and Cheshire Stilton. Wensleydale was one in the early days, and still is, together with Blue Dorset, the deepest green of them all, and esoteric Blue Vinny, a choosey cheese not liked by everybody, the favorite of Thomas Hardy.
Sheila Hibben once wrote in The New Yorker:
I can't imagine any difference of opinion about Brie's being the queen of all cheeses, and if there is any such difference, I shall certainly ignore it. The very shape of Brie—so uncheese-like and so charmingly fragile—is exciting. Nine times out of ten a Brie will let you down—will be all caked into layers, which shows it is too young, or at the over-runny stage, which means it is too old—but when you come on the tenth Brie, coulant to just the right, delicate creaminess, and the color of fresh, sweet butter, no other cheese can compare with it.
The season of Brie, like that of oysters, is simple to remember: only months with an "R," beginning with September, which is the best, bar none.
From Bulgaria to Turkey the Italian "horse cheese," as Caciocavallo translates, is as universally popular as it is at home and in all the Little Italics throughout the rest of the world. Flattering imitations are made and named after it, as follows:
GREECE: Kashcavallo and Caskcaval
RUMANIA: Pentele and Kascaval
TRANSYLVANIA: Kascaval (as in Rumania)
TURKEY: Cascaval Penir
A horse's head printed on the cheese gave rise to its popular name and to the myth that it is made of mare's milk. It is, however, curded from cow's milk, whole or partly skimmed, and sometimes from water buffalo; hard, yellow and so buttery that the best of it, which comes from Sorrento, is called Cacio burro, butter cheese. Slightly salty, with a spicy tang, it is eaten sliced when young and mild and used for grating and seasoning when old, not only on the usual Italian pastes but on sweets.
Different from the many grating cheeses made from little balls of curd called grana, Caciocavallo is a pasta fileta, or drawn-curd product. Because of this it is sometimes drawn out in long thick threads and braided. It is a cheese for skilled artists to make sculptures with, sometimes horses' heads, again bunches of grapes and other fruits, even as Provolone is shaped like apples and pears and often worked into elaborate bas-relief designs. But ordinarily the horse's head is a plain tenpin in shape or a squat bottle with a knob on the side by which it has been tied up, two cheeses at a time, on opposite sides of a rafter, while being smoked lightly golden and rubbed with olive oil and butter to make it all the more buttery.
In Calabria and Sicily it is very popular, and although the best comes from Sorrento, there is keen competition from Abruzzi, Apulian Province and Molise. It keeps well and doesn't spoil when shipped overseas.
In his Little Book of Cheese Osbert Burdett recommends the high, horsy strength of this smoked Cacio over tobacco smoke after dinner:
Only monsters smoke at meals, but a monster assured me that Gorgonzola best survives this malpractice. Clearly, some pungency is necessary, and confidence suggests rather Cacio which would survive anything, the monster said.
Camembert is called "mold-matured" and all that is genuine is labeled Syndicat du Vrai Camembert. The name in full is Syndicat des Fabricants du Veritable Camembert de Normandie and we agree that this is "a most useful association for the defense of one of the best cheeses of France." Its extremely delicate piquance cannot be matched, except perhaps by Brie.
Napoleon is said to have named it and to have kissed the waitress who first served it to him in the tiny town of Camembert. And there a statue stands today in the market place to honor Marie Harel who made the first Camembert.
Camembert is equally good on thin slices of apple, pineapple, pear, French "flute" or pumpernickel. As-with Brie and with oysters, Camembert should be eaten only in the "R" months, and of these September is the best.
Since Camembert rhymes with beware, if you can't get the veritable don't fall for a domestic imitation or any West German abomination such as one dressed like a valentine in a heart-shaped box and labeled "Camembert—Cheese Exquisite." They are equally tasteless, chalky with youth, or choking with ammoniacal gas when old and decrepit.
The English Encyclopedia of Practical Cookery says:
Cheddar cheese is one of the kings of cheese; it is pale coloured, mellow, salvy, and, when good, resembling a hazelnut in flavour. The Cheddar principle pervades the whole cheesemaking districts of America, Canada and New Zealand, but no cheese imported into England can equal the Cheddars of Somerset and the West of Scotland.
Named for a village near Bristol where farmer Joseph Harding first manufactured it, the best is still called Farmhouse Cheddar, but in America we have practically none of this. Farmhouse Cheddar must be ripened at least nine months to a mellowness, and little of our American cheese gets as much as that. Back in 1695 John Houghton wrote that it "contended in goodness (if kept from two to five years, according to magnitude) with any cheese in England."
Today it is called "England's second-best cheese," second after Stilton, of course.
In early days a large cheese sufficed for a year or two of family feeding, according to this old note: "A big Cheddar can be kept for two years in excellent condition if kept in a cool room and turned over every other day."
But in old England some were harder to preserve: "In Bath... I asked one lady of the larder how she kept Cheddar cheese. Her eyes twinkled: 'We don't keep cheese; we eats it.'"
A Cheshireman sailed into Spain To trade for merchandise; When he arrived from the main A Spaniard him espies. Who said, "You English rogue, look here! What fruits and spices fine Our land produces twice a year. Thou has not such in thine."
The Cheshireman ran to his hold And fetched a Cheshire cheese, And said, "Look here, you dog, behold! We have such fruits as these. Your fruits are ripe but twice a year, As you yourself do say, But such as I present you here Our land brings twice a day."
Let us pass on to cheese. We have some glorious cheeses, and far too few people glorying in them. The Cheddar of the inn, of the chophouse, of the average English home, is a libel on a thing which, when authentic, is worthy of great honor. Cheshire, divinely commanded into existence as to three parts to precede and as to one part to accompany certain Tawny Ports and some Late-Bottled Ports, can be a thing for which the British Navy ought to fire a salute on the principle on which Colonel Brisson made his regiment salute when passing the great Burgundian vineyard.
T. Earle Welby,
IN "THE DINNER KNELL"
Cheshire is not only the most literary cheese in England, but the oldest. It was already manufactured when Caesar conquered Britain, and tradition is that the Romans built the walled city of Chester to control the district where the precious cheese was made. Chester on the River Dee was a stronghold against the Roman invasion.
It came to fame with The Old Cheshire Cheese in Elizabethan times and waxed great with Samuel Johnson presiding at the Fleet Street Inn where White Cheshire was served "with radishes or watercress or celery when in season," and Red Cheshire was served toasted or stewed in a sort of Welsh Rabbit. (See Chapter 5.)
The Blue variety is called Cheshire-Stilton, and Vyvyan Holland, in Cheddar Gorge suggests that "it was no doubt a cheese of this sort, discovered and filched from the larder of the Queen of Hearts, that accounted for the contented grin on the face of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland."
All very English, as recorded in Victor Meusy's couplet:
Dans le Chester sec et rose A longues dents, l'Anglais mord.
In the Chester dry and pink The long teeth of the English sink.
Edam and Gouda Edam in Peace and War
There also coming into the river two Dutchmen, we sent a couple of men on board and brought three Holland cheeses, cost 4d. a piece, excellent cheeses.
Pepys' Diary, March 2,1663
Commodore Coe, of the Montevidian Navy, defeated Admiral Brown of the Buenos Ayrean Navy, in a naval battle, when he used Holland cheese for cannon balls.
The Harbinger (Vermont), December 11, 1847
The crimson cannon balls of Holland have been heard around the world. Known as "red balls" in England and katzenkopf, "cat's head," in Germany, they differ from Gouda chiefly in the shape, Gouda being round but flattish and now chiefly imported as one-pound Baby Goudas.
Edam when it is good is very, very good, but when it is bad it is horrid. Sophisticated ones are sent over already scalloped for the ultimate consumer to add port, and there are crocks of Holland cheese potted with sauterne. Both Edam and Gouda should be well aged to develop full-bodied quality, two years being the accepted standard for Edam.
The best Edams result from a perfect combination of Breed (black-and-white Dutch Friesian) and Feed (the rich pasturage of Friesland and Noord Holland).
The Goudas, shaped like English Derby and Belgian Delft and Leyden, come from South Holland. Some are specially made for the Jewish trade and called Kosher Gouda. Both Edam and Gouda are eaten at mealtimes thrice daily in Holland. A Dutch breakfast without one or the other on black bread with butter and black coffee would be unthinkable. They're also boon companions to plum bread and Dutch cocoa.
"Eclair Edams" are those with soft insides.
Emmentaler, Gruyere and Swiss
When the working woman Takes her midday lunch, It is a piece of Gruyere Which for her takes the place of roast.
Whether an Emmentaler is eminently Schweizerkaese, grand Gruyere from France, or lesser Swiss of the United States, the shape, size and glisten of the eyes indicate the stage of ripeness, skill of making and quality of flavor. They must be uniform, roundish, about the size of a big cherry and, most important of all, must glisten like the eye of a lass in love, dry but with the suggestion of a tear.
Gruyere does not see eye to eye with the big-holed Swiss Saanen cartwheel or American imitation. It has tiny holes, and many of them; let us say it is freckled with pinholes, rather than pock-marked. This variety is technically called a niszler, while one without any holes at all is "blind." Eyes or holes are also called vesicles.
Gruyere Trauben (Grape Gruyere) is aged in Neuchatel wine in Switzerland, although most Gruyere has been made in France since its introduction there in 1722. The most famous is made in the Jura, and another is called Comte from its origin in Franche-Comte.
A blind Emmentaler was made in Switzerland for export to Italy where it was hardened in caves to become a grating cheese called Raper, and now it is largely imitated there. Emmentaler, in fact, because of its piquant pecan-nut flavor and inimitable quality, is simulated everywhere, even in Switzerland.
Besides phonies from Argentina and countries as far off as Finland, we get a flood of imported and domestic Swisses of all sad sorts, with all possible faults—from too many holes, that make a flabby, wobbly cheese, to too few—cracked, dried-up, collapsed or utterly ruined by molding inside. So it will pay you to buy only the kind already marked genuine in Switzerland. For there cheese such as Saanen takes six years to ripen, improves with age, and keeps forever.
Cartwheels well over a hundred years old are still kept in cheese cellars (as common in Switzerland as wine cellars are in France), and it is said that the rank of a family is determined by the age and quality of the cheese in its larder.
Feta and Casere
The Greeks have a name for it—Feta. Their neighbors call it Greek cheese. Feta is to cheese what Hymettus is to honey. The two together make ambrosial manna. Feta is soft and as blinding white as a plate of fresh Ricotta smothered with sour cream. The whiteness is preserved by shipping the cheese all the way from Greece in kegs sloshing full of milk, the milk being renewed from time to time. Having been cured in brine, this great sheep-milk curd is slightly salty and somewhat sharp, but superbly spicy.
When first we tasted it fresh from the keg with salty milk dripping through our fingers, we gave it full marks. This was at the Staikos Brothers Greek-import store on West 23rd Street in Manhattan. We then compared Feta with thin wisps of its grown-up brother, Casere. This gray and greasy, hard and brittle palate-tickler of sheep's milk made us bleat for more Feta.
Gorgonzola, least pretentious of the Blues triumvirate (including Roquefort and Stilton) is nonetheless by common consent monarch of all other Blues from Argentina to Denmark. In England, indeed, many epicures consider Gorgonzola greater than Stilton, which is the highest praise any cheese can get there. Like all great cheeses it has been widely imitated, but never equaled. Imported Gorgonzola, when fruity ripe, is still firm but creamy and golden inside with rich green veins running through. Very pungent and highly flavored, it is eaten sliced or crumbled to flavor salad dressings, like Roquefort.
Hable Creme Chantilly
The name Hable Creme Chantilly sounds French, but the cheese is Swedish and actually lives up to the blurb in the imported package: "The overall characteristic is indescribable and delightful freshness."
This exclusive product of the Walk Gaerd Creamery was hailed by Sheila Hibben in The New Yorker of May 6, 1950, as enthusiastically as Brillat-Savarin would have greeted a new dish, or the Planetarium a new star:
Endeavoring to be as restrained as I can, I shall merely suggest that the arrival of Creme Chantilly is a historic event and that in reporting on it I feel something of the responsibility that the contemporaries of Madame Harel, the famous cheese-making lady of Normandy, must have felt when they were passing judgment on the first Camembert.
Miss Hibben goes on to say that only a fromage a la creme made in Quebec had come anywhere near her impression of the new Swedish triumph. She quotes the last word from the makers themselves: "This is a very special product that has never been made on this earth before," and speaks of "the elusive flavor of mushrooms" before summing up, "the exquisitely textured curd and the unexpectedly fresh flavor combine to make it one of the most subtly enjoyable foods that have come my way in a long time."
And so say we—all of us.
Hand cheese has this niche in our Cheese Hall of Fame not because we consider it great, but because it is usually included among the eighteen varieties on which the hundreds of others are based. It is named from having been molded into its final shape by hand. Universally popular with Germanic races, it is too strong for the others. To our mind, Hand cheese never had anything that Allgaeuer or Limburger hasn't improved upon.
It is the only cheese that is commonly melted into steins of beer and drunk instead of eaten. It is usually studded with caraway seeds, the most natural spice for curds.
Limburger has always been popular in America, ever since it was brought over by German-American immigrants; but England never took to it. This is eloquently expressed in the following entry in the English Encyclopedia of Practical Cookery:
Limburger cheese is chiefly famous for its pungently offensive odor. It is made from skimmed milk, and allowed to partially decompose before pressing. It is very little known in this country, and might be less so with advantage to consumers.
But this is libel. Butter-soft and sapid, Limburger has brought gustatory pleasure to millions of hardy gastronomes since it came to light in the province of Luettich in Belgium. It has been Americanized for almost a century and is by now one of the very few cheeses successfully imitated here, chiefly in New York and Wisconsin.
Early Wisconsiners will never forget the Limburger Rebellion in Green County, when the people rose in protest against the Limburger caravan that was accustomed to park in the little town of Monroe where it was marketed. They threatened to stage a modern Boston Tea Party and dump the odoriferous bricks in the river, when five or six wagonloads were left ripening in the sun in front of the town bank. The Limburger was finally stored safely underground.
Livarot has been described as decadent, "The very Verlaine of them all," and Victor Meusy personifies it in a poem dedicated to all the great French cheeses, of which we give a free translation:
In the dog days In its overflowing dish Livarot gesticulates Or weeps like a child.
At the diplomatic banquet One must choose his piece. All is politics, A cheese and a flag.
You annoy the Russians If you take Chester; You irritate the Prussians In choosing Muenster.
Like Limburger, this male cheese, often caraway-flavored, does not fare well in England. Although over here we consider Muenster far milder than Limburger, the English writer Eric Weir in When Madame Cooks will have none of it:
I cannot think why this cheese was not thrown from the aeroplanes during the war to spread panic amongst enemy troops. It would have proved far more efficacious than those nasty deadly gases that kill people permanently.
If the cream cheese be white Far fairer the hands that made them.
Arthur Hugh Clough
Although originally from Normandy, Neufchatel, like Limburger, was so long ago welcomed to America and made so splendidly at home here that we may consider it our very own. All we have against it is that it has served as the model for too many processed abominations.
Parmesan, Romano, Pecorino, Pecorino Romano
Parmesan when young, soft and slightly crumbly is eaten on bread. But when well aged, let us say up to a century, it becomes Rock of Gibraltar of cheeses and really suited for grating. It is easy to believe that the so-called "Spanish cheese" used as a barricade by Americans in Nicaragua almost a century ago was none other than the almost indestructible Grana, as Parmesan is called in Italy.
The association between cheese and battling began in B.C. days with the Jews and Romans, who fed cheese to their soldiers not only for its energy value but as a convenient form of rations, since every army travels on its stomach and can't go faster than its impedimenta. The last notable mention of cheese in war was the name of the Monitor: "A cheese box on a raft."
Romano is not as expensive as Parmesan, although it is as friable, sharp and tangy for flavoring, especially for soups such as onion and minestrone. It is brittle and just off-white when well aged.
Although made of sheep's milk, Pecorino is classed with both Parmesan and Romano. All three are excellently imitated in Argentina. Romano and Pecorino Romano are interchangeable names for the strong, medium-sharp and piquant Parmesan types that sell for considerably less. Most of it is now shipped from Sardinia. There are several different kinds: Pecorino Dolce (sweet), Sardo Tuscano, and Pecorino Romano Cacio, which relates it to Caciocavallo.
Kibitzers complain that some of the cheaper types of Pecorino are soapy, but fans give it high praise. Gillian F., in her "Letter from Italy" in Osbert Burdett's delectable Little Book of Cheese, writes:
Out in the orchard, my companion, I don't remember how, had provided the miracle: a flask of wine, a loaf of bread and a slab of fresh Pecorino cheese (there wasn't any "thou" for either) ... But that cheese was Paradise; and the flask was emptied, and a wood dove cooing made you think that the flask's contents were in a crystal goblet instead of an enamel cup ... one only ... and the cheese broken with the fingers ... a cheese of cheeses.
This semisoft, medium-strong, golden-tinted French classic made since the thirteenth century, is definitely a dessert cheese whose excellence is brought out best by a sound claret or tawny port.
Port-Salut (See Trappist)
Within recent years Provolone has taken America by storm, as Camembert, Roquefort, Swiss, Limburger, Neufchatel and such great ones did long before. But it has not been successfully imitated here because the original is made of rich water-buffalo milk unattainable in the Americas.
With Caciocavallo, this mellow, smoky flavorsome delight is put up in all sorts of artistic forms, red-cellophaned apples, pears, bells, a regular zoo of animals, and in all sorts of sizes, up to a monumental hundred-pound bas-relief imported for exhibition purposes by Phil Alpert.
Homage to this fromage! Long hailed as le roi Roquefort, it has filled books and booklets beyond count. By the miracle of Penicillium Roqueforti a new cheese was made. It is placed historically back around the eighth century when Charlemagne was found picking out the green spots of Persille with the point of his knife, thinking them decay. But the monks of Saint-Gall, who were his hosts, recorded in their annals that when they regaled him with Roquefort (because it was Friday and they had no fish) they also made bold to tell him he was wasting the best part of the cheese. So he tasted again, found the advice excellent and liked it so well he ordered two caisses of it sent every year to his palace at Aix-la-Chapelle. He also suggested that it be cut in half first, to make sure it was well veined with blue, and then bound up with a wooden fastening.
Perhaps he hoped the wood would protect the cheeses from mice and rats, for the good monks of Saint-Gall couldn't be expected to send an escort of cats from their chalky caves to guard them—even for Charlemagne. There is no telling how many cats were mustered out in the caves, in those early days, but a recent census put the number at five hundred. We can readily imagine the head handler in the caves leading a night inspection with a candle, followed by his chief taster and a regiment of cats. While the Dutch and other makers of cheese also employ cats to patrol their storage caves, Roquefort holds the record for number. An interesting point in this connection is that as rats and mice pick only the prime cheeses, a gnawed one is not thrown away but greatly prized.
Sapsago, Schabziger or Swiss Green Cheese
The name Sapsago is a corruption of Schabziger, German for whey cheese. It's a hay cheese, flavored heavily with melilot, a kind of clover that's also grown for hay. It comes from Switzerland in a hard, truncated cone wrapped in a piece of paper that says:
To be used grated only Genuine Swiss Green Cheese Made of skimmed milk and herbs
To the housewives! Do you want a change in your meals? Try the contents of this wrapper! Delicious as spreading mixed with butter, excellent for flavoring eggs, macaroni, spaghetti, potatoes, soup, etc. Can be used in place of any other cheese. Do not take too much, you might spoil the flavor.
We put this wrapper among our papers, sealed it tight in an envelope, and to this day, six months later, the scent of Sapsago clings 'round it still.
Honor for Cheeses
Literary and munching circles in London are putting quite a lot of thought into a proposed memorial to Stilton cheese. There is a Stilton Memorial Committee, with Sir John Squire at the head, and already the boys are fighting.
One side, led by Sir John, is all for a monument.
This, presumably, would not be a replica of Stilton itself, although Mr. Epstein could probably hack out a pretty effective cheese-shaped figure and call it "Dolorosa."
The monument-boosters plan a figure of Mrs. Paulet, who first introduced Stilton to England. (Possibly a group showing Mrs. Paulet holding a young Stilton by the hand and introducing it, while the Stilton curtsies.)
T.S. Eliot does not think that anyone would look at a monument, but wants to establish a Foundation for the Preservation of Ancient Cheeses. The practicability of this plan would depend largely on the site selected for the treasure house and the cost of obtaining a curator who could, or would, give his whole time to the work.
Mr. J.A. Symonds, who is secretary of the committee, agrees with Mr. Eliot that a simple statue is not the best form.
"I should like," he says, "something irrelevant—gargoyles, perhaps."
I think that Mr. Symonds has hit on something there.
I would suggest, if we Americans can pitch into this great movement, some gargoyles designed by Mr. Rube Goldberg.
If the memorial could be devised so as to take on an international scope, an exchange fellowship might be established between England and America, although the exchange, in the case of Stilton, would have to be all on England's side.
We might be allowed to furnish the money, however, while England furnishes the cheese.
There is a very good precedent for such a bargain between the two countries.
Robert Benchley, in After 1903—What?
When all seems lost in England there is still Stilton, an endless after-dinner conversation piece to which England points with pride. For a sound appreciation of this cheese see Clifton Fadiman's introduction to this book.
Taleggio and Bel Paese
When the great Italian cheese-maker, Galbini, first exported Bel Paese some years ago, it was an eloquent ambassador to America. But as the years went on and imitations were made in many lands, Galbini deemed it wise to set up his own factory in our beautiful country. However, the domestic Bel Paese and a minute one-pounder called Bel Paesino just didn't have that old Alpine zest. They were no better than the German copy called Schoenland, after the original, or the French Fleur des Alpes.
Mel Fino was a blend of Bel Paese and Gorgonzola. It perked up the market for a full, fruity cheese with snap. Then Galbini hit the jackpot with his Taleggio that fills the need for the sharpest, most sophisticated pungence of them all.
Trappist, Port-Salut, or Port du Salut, and Oka
In spite of its name Trappist is no rat-trap commoner. Always of the elect, and better known as Port-Salut or Port du Salut from the original home of the Trappist monks in their chief French abbey, it is also set apart from the ordinary Canadians under the name of Oka, from the Trappist monastery there. It is made by Trappist monks all over the world, according to the original secret formula, and by Trappist Cistercian monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani Trappist in Kentucky.
This is a soft cheese, creamy and of superb flavor. You can't go wrong if you look for the monastery name stamped on, such as Harze in Belgium, Mont-des-Cats in Flanders, Sainte Anne d'Auray in Brittany, and so forth.
Last but not least, a commercial Port-Salut entirely without benefit of clergy or monastery is made in Milwaukee under the Lion Brand. It is one of the finest American cheeses in which we have ever sunk a fang.
The first American Cheddar was made soon after 1620 around Plymouth by Pilgrim fathers who brought along not only cheese from the homeland but a live cow to continue the supply. Proof of our ability to manufacture Cheddar of our own lies in the fact that by 1790 we were exporting it back to England.
It was called Cheddar after the English original named for the village of Cheddar near Bristol. More than a century ago it made a new name for itself, Herkimer County cheese, from the section of New York State where it was first made best. Herkimer still equals its several distinguished competitors, Coon, Colorado Blackie, California Jack, Pineapple, Sage, Vermont Colby and Wisconsin Longhorn.
The English called our imitation Yankee, or American, Cheddar, while here at home it was popularly known as yellow or store cheese from its prominent position in every country store; also apple-pie cheese because of its affinity for the all-American dessert.
The first Cheddar factory was founded by Jesse Williams in Rome, New York, just over a century ago and, with Herkimer County Cheddar already widely known, this established "New York" as the preferred "store-boughten" cheese.
An account of New York's cheese business in the pioneer Wooden Nutmeg Era is found in Ernest Elmo Calkins' interesting book, They Broke the Prairies. A Yankee named Silvanus Ferris, "the most successful dairyman of Herkimer County," in the first decades of the 1800's teamed up with Robert Nesbit, "the old Quaker Cheese Buyer." They bought from farmers in the region and sold in New York City. And "according to the business ethics of the times," Nesbit went ahead to cheapen the cheese offered by deprecating its quality, hinting at a bad market and departing without buying. Later when Ferris arrived in a more optimistic mood, offering a slightly better price, the seller, unaware they were partners, and ignorant of the market price, snapped up the offer.
Similar sharp-trade tactics put too much green cheese on the market, so those honestly aged from a minimum of eight months up to two years fetched higher prices. They were called "old," such as Old Herkimer, Old Wisconsin Longhorn, and Old California Jack.
Although the established Cheddar ages are three, fresh, medium-cured, and cured or aged, commercially they are divided into two and described as mild and sharp. The most popular are named for their states: Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin. Two New York Staters are called and named separately, Coon and Herkimer County. Tillamook goes by its own name with no mention of Oregon. Pineapple, Monterey Jack and Sage are seldom listed as Cheddars at all, although they are basically that.
Brick is the one and only cheese for which the whole world gives America credit. Runners-up are Liederkranz, which rivals say is too close to Limburger, and Pineapple, which is only a Cheddar under its crisscrossed, painted and flavored rind. Yet Brick is no more distinguished than either of the hundred percent Americans, and in our opinion is less worth bragging about.
It is a medium-firm, mild-to-strong slicing cheese for sandwiches and melting in hot dishes. Its texture is elastic but not rubbery, its taste sweetish, and it is full of little round holes or eyes. All this has inspired enthusiasts to liken it to Emmentaler. The most appropriate name for it has long been "married man's Limburger." To make up for the mildness caraway seed is sometimes added.
About Civil War time, John Jossi, a dairyman of Dodge County, Wisconsin, came up with this novelty, a rennet cheese made of whole cow's milk. The curd is cut like Cheddar, heated, stirred and cooked firm to put in a brick-shaped box without a bottom and with slits in the sides to drain. When this is set on the draining table a couple of bricks are also laid on the cooked curd for pressure. It is this double use of bricks, for shaping and for pressing, that has led to the confusion about which came first in originating the name.
The formed "bricks" of cheese are rubbed with salt for three days and they ripen slowly, taking up to two months.
We eat several million pounds a year and 95 percent of that comes from Wisconsin, with a trickle from New York.
Colorado Blackie Cheese
A subtly different American Cheddar is putting Colorado on our cheese map. It is called Blackie from the black-waxed rind and it resembles Vermont State cheese, although it is flatter. This is a proud new American product, proving that although Papa Cheddar was born in England his American kinfolk have developed independent and valuable characters all on their own.
Coon cheese is full of flavor from being aged on shelves at a higher temperature than cold storage. Its rind is darker from the growth of mold and this shade is sometimes painted on more ordinary Cheddars to make them look like Coon, which always brings a 10 percent premium above the general run.
Made at Lowville, New York, it has received high praise from a host of admirers, among them the French cook, Clementine, in Phineas Beck's Kitchen, who raised it to the par of French immortals by calling it Fromage de Coon. Clementine used it "with scintillating success in countless French recipes which ended with the words gratiner au four et servir tres chaud. She made baguettes of it by soaking sticks three-eights-inch square and one and a half inches long in lukewarm milk, rolling them in flour, beaten egg and bread crumbs and browning them instantaneously in boiling oil."
Herkimer County Cheese
The standard method for making American Cheddar was established in Herkimer County, New York, in 1841 and has been rigidly maintained down to this day. Made with rennet and a bacterial "starter," the curd is cut and pressed to squeeze out all of the whey and then aged in cylindrical forms for a year or more.
Herkimer leads the whole breed by being flaky, brittle, sharp and nutty, with a crumb that will crumble, and a soft, mouth-watering pale orange color when it is properly aged.
Isigny is a native American cheese that came a cropper. It seems to be extinct now, and perhaps that is all to the good, for it never meant to be anything more than another Camembert, of which we have plenty of imitation.
Not long after the Civil War the attempt was made to perfect Isigny. The curd was carefully prepared according to an original formula, washed and rubbed and set aside to come of age. But when it did, alas, it was more like Limburger than Camembert, and since good domestic Limburger was then a dime a pound, obviously it wouldn't pay off. Yet in shape the newborn resembled Camembert, although it was much larger. So they cut it down and named it after the delicate French Creme d'lsigny.
Jack, California Jack and Monterey Jack
Jack was first known as Monterey cheese from the California county where it originated. Then it was called Jack for short, and only now takes its full name after sixty years of popularity on the West Coast. Because it is little known in the East and has to be shipped so far, it commands the top Cheddar price.
Monterey Jack is a stirred curd Cheddar without any annatto coloring. It is sweeter than most and milder when young, but it gets sharper with age and more expensive because of storage costs.
No native American cheese has been so widely ballyhooed, and so deservedly, as Liederkranz, which translates "Wreath of Song."
Back in the gay, inventive nineties, Emil Frey, a young delicatessen keeper in New York, tried to please some bereft customers by making an imitation of Bismarck Schlosskaese. This was imperative because the imported German cheese didn't stand up during the long sea trip and Emil's customers, mostly members of the famous Liederkranz singing society, didn't feel like singing without it. But Emil's attempts at imitation only added indigestion to their dejection, until one day—fabelhaft! One of those cheese dream castles in Spain came true. He turned out a tawny, altogether golden, tangy and mellow little marvel that actually was an improvement on Bismarck's old Schlosskaese. Better than Brick, it was a deodorized Limburger, both a man's cheese and one that cheese-conscious women adored.
Emil named it "Wreath of Song" for the Liederkranz customers. It soon became as internationally known as tabasco from Texas or Parisian Camembert which it slightly resembles. Borden's bought out Frey in 1929 and they enjoy telling the story of a G.I. who, to celebrate V-E Day in Paris, sent to his family in Indiana, only a few miles from the factory at Van Wert, Ohio, a whole case of what he had learned was "the finest cheese France could make." And when the family opened it, there was Liederkranz.
Another deserved distinction is that of being sandwiched in between two foreign immortals in the following recipe:
1 ripe Camembert cheese 1 Liederkranz 1/8 pound imported Roquefort 1/4 pound butter 1 tablespoon flour 1 cup cream 1/2 cup finely chopped olives 1/4 cup canned pimiento A sprinkling of cayenne
Depending on whether or not you like the edible rind of Camembert and Liederkranz, you can leave it on, scrape any thick part off, or remove it all. Mash the soft creams together with the Roquefort, butter and flour, using a silver fork. Put the mix into an enameled pan, for anything with a metal surface will turn the cheese black in cooking.
Stir in the cream and keep stirring until you have a smooth, creamy sauce. Strain through sieve or cheesecloth, and mix in the olives and pimiento thoroughly. Sprinkle well with cayenne and put into a pot to mellow for a few days, or much longer.
The name Schnitzelbank comes from "school bench," a game. This snappy-sweet pot is specially suited to a beer party and stein songs. It is also the affinity-spread with rye and pumpernickel, and may be served in small sandwiches or on crackers, celery and such, to make appetizing tidbits for cocktails, tea, or cider.
Like the trinity of cheeses that make it, the mixture is eaten best at room temperature, when its flavor is fullest. If kept in the refrigerator, it should be taken out a couple of hours before serving. Since it is a natural cheese mixture, which has gone through no process or doping with preservative, it will not keep more than two weeks. This mellow-sharp mix is the sort of ideal the factory processors shoot at with their olive-pimiento abominations. Once you've potted your own, you'll find it gives the same thrill as garnishing your own Liptauer.
The discovery of sandstone caves in the bluffs along the Mississippi, in and near the Twin Cities of Minnesota, has established a distinctive type of Blue cheese named for the state. Although the Roquefort process of France is followed and the cheese is inoculated in the same way by mold from bread, it can never equal the genuine imported, marked with its red-sheep brand, because the milk used in Minnesota Blue is cow's milk, and the caves are sandstone instead of limestone. Yet this is an excellent, Blue cheese in its own right.
Pineapple cheese is named after its shape rather than its flavor, although there are rumors that some pineapple flavor is noticeable near the oiled rind. This flavor does not penetrate through to the Cheddar center. Many makers of processed cheese have tampered with the original, so today you can't be sure of anything except getting a smaller size every year or two, at a higher price. Originally six pounds, the Pineapple has shrunk to nearly six ounces. The proper bright-orange, oiled and shellacked surface is more apt to be a sickly lemon.
Always an ornamental cheese, it once stood in state on the side-board under a silver bell also made to represent a pineapple. You cut a top slice off the cheese, just as you would off the fruit, and there was a rose-colored, fine-tasting, mellow-hard cheese to spoon out with a special silver cheese spoon or scoop. Between meals the silver top was put on the silver holder and the oiled and shellacked rind kept the cheese moist. Even when the Pineapple was eaten down to the rind the shell served as a dunking bowl to fill with some salubrious cold Fondue or salad.
Made in the same manner as Cheddar with the curd cooked harder, Pineapple's distinction lies in being hung in a net that makes diamond-shaped corrugations on the surface, simulating the sections of the fruit. It is a pioneer American product with almost a century and a half of service since Lewis M. Norton conceived it in 1808 in Litchfield County, Connecticut. There in 1845 he built a factory and made a deserved fortune out of his decorative ingenuity with what before had been plain, unromantic yellow or store cheese.
Perhaps his inspiration came from cone-shaped Cheshire in old England, also called Pineapple cheese, combined with the hanging up of Provolones in Italy that leaves the looser pattern of the four sustaining strings.
Sage, Vermont Sage and Vermont State
The story of Sage cheese, or green cheese as it was called originally, shows the several phases most cheeses have gone through, from their simple, honest beginnings to commercialization, and sometimes back to the real thing.
The English Encyclopedia of Practical Cookery has an early Sage recipe:
This is a species of cream cheese made by adding sage leaves and greening to the milk. A very good receipt for it is given thus: Bruise the tops of fresh young red sage leaves with an equal quantity of spinach leaves and squeeze out the juice. Add this to the extract of rennet and stir into the milk as much as your taste may deem sufficient. Break the curd when it comes, salt it, fill the vat high with it, press for a few hours, and then turn the cheese every day.
Fancy Cheese in America, lay Charles A. Publow, records the commercialization of the cheese mentioned above, a century or two later, in 1910:
Sage cheese is another modified form of the Cheddar variety. Its distinguishing features are a mottled green color and a sage flavor. The usual method of manufacture is as follows: One-third of the total amount of milk is placed in a vat by itself and colored green by the addition of eight to twelve ounces of commercial sage color to each 1,000 pounds of milk. If green corn leaves (unavailable in England) or other substances are used for coloring, the amounts will vary accordingly. The milk is then made up by the regular Cheddar method, as is also the remaining two-thirds, in a separate vat. At the time of removing the whey the green and white curds are mixed. Some prefer, however, to mix the curds at the time of milling, as a more distinct color is secured. After milling, the sage extract flavoring is sprayed over the curd with an atomizer. The curd is then salted and pressed into the regular Cheddar shapes and sizes.
A very satisfactory Sage cheese is made at the New York State College of Agriculture by simply dropping green coloring, made from the leaves of corn and spinach, upon the curd, after milling. An even green mottling is thus easily secured without additional labor. Sage flavoring extract is sprayed over the curd by an atomizer. One-half ounce of flavoring is usually sufficient for a hundred pounds of curd and can be secured from dairy supply houses.
A modern cheese authority reported on the current (1953) method:
Instead of sage leaves, or tea prepared from them, at present the cheese is flavored with oil of Dalmatian wild sage because it has the sharpest flavor. This piny oil, thujone, is diluted with water, 250 parts to one, and either added to the milk or sprayed over the curds, one-eighth ounce for 500 quarts of milk.
In scouting around for a possible maker of the real thing today, we wrote to Vrest Orton of Vermont, and got this reply:
Sage cheese is one of the really indigenous and best native Vermont products. So far as I know, there is only one factory making it and that is my friend, George Crowley's. He makes a limited amount for my Vermont Country Store. It is the fine old-time full cream cheese, flavored with real sage.
On this hangs a tale. Some years ago I couldn't get enough sage cheese (we never can) so I asked a Wisconsin cheesemaker if he would make some. Said he would but couldn't at that time—because the alfalfa wasn't ripe. I said, "What in hell has alfalfa got to do with sage cheese?" He said, "Well, we flavor the sage cheese with a synthetic sage flavor and then throw in some pieces of chopped-up alfalfa to make it look green."
So I said to hell with that and the next time I saw George Crowley I told him the story and George said, "We don't use synthetic flavor, alfalfa or anything like that."
"Then what do you use, George?" I inquired.
"We use real sage."
"Well, because it's cheaper than that synthetic stuff."
The genuine Vermont Sage arrived. Here are our notes on it:
Oh, wilderness were Paradise enow! My taste buds come to full flower with the Sage. There's a slight burned savor recalling smoked cheese, although not related in any way. Mildly resinous like that Near East one packed in pine, suggesting the well-saged dressing of a turkey. A round mouthful of luscious mellowness, with a bouquet—a snapping reminder to the nose. And there's just a soupcon of new-mown hay above the green freckles of herb to delight the eye and set the fancy free. So this is the veritable vert, green cheese—the moon is made of it! Vert veritable. A general favorite with everybody who ever tasted it, for generations of lusty crumblers.
Old-Fashioned Vermont State Store Cheese
We received from savant Vrest Orton another letter, together with some Vermont store cheese and some crackers.
This cheese is our regular old-fashioned store cheese—it's been in old country stores for generations and we have been pioneers in spreading the word about it. It is, of course, a natural aged cheese, no processing, no fussing, no fooling with it. It's made the same way it was back in 1870, by the old-time Colby method which makes a cheese which is not so dry as Cheddar and also has holes in it, something like Swiss. Also, it ages faster.
Did you know that during the last part of the nineteenth century and part of the twentieth, Vermont was the leading cheesemaking state in the Union? When I was a lad, every town in Vermont had one or more cheese factories. Now there are only two left—not counting any that make process. Process isn't cheese!
The crackers are the old-time store cracker—every Vermonter used to buy a big barrel once a year to set in the buttery and eat. A classic dish is crackers, broken up in a bowl of cold milk, with a hunk of Vermont cheese like this on the side. Grand snack, grand midnight supper, grand anything. These crackers are not sweet, not salt, and as such make a good base for anything—swell with clam chowder, also with toasted cheese....
It takes two pocket-sized, but thick, yellow volumes to record the story of Oregon's great Tillamook. The Cheddar Box, by Dean Collins, comes neatly boxed and bound in golden cloth stamped with a purple title, like the rind of a real Tillamook. Volume I is entitled Cheese Cheddar, and Volume II is a two-pound Cheddar cheese labeled Tillamook and molded to fit inside its book jacket. We borrowed Volume I from a noted litterateur, and never could get him to come across with Volume II. We guessed its fate, however, from a note on the flyleaf of the only tome available: "This is an excellent cheese, full cream and medium sharp, and a unique set of books in which Volume II suggests Bacon's: 'Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.'"
Since we began this chapter with all-American Cheddars, it is only fitting to end with Wisconsin Longhorn, a sort of national standard, even though it's not nearly so fancy or high-priced as some of the regional natives that can't approach its enormous output. It's one of those all-purpose round cheeses that even taste round in your mouth. We are specially partial to it.
Most Cheddars are named after their states. Yet, putting all of these thirty-seven states together, they produce only about half as much as Wisconsin alone.
Besides Longhorn, in Wisconsin there are a dozen regional competitors ranging from White Twin Cheddar, to which no annatto coloring has been added, through Green Bay cheese to Wisconsin Redskin and Martha Washington Aged, proudly set forth by P.H. Kasper of Bear Creek, who is said to have "won more prizes in forty years than any ten cheesemakers put together."
To help guarantee a market for all this excellent apple-pie cheese, the Wisconsin State Legislature made a law about it, recognizing the truth of Eugene Field's jingle:
Apple pie without cheese Is like a kiss without a squeeze.
Small matter in the Badger State when the affinity is made legal and the couple lawfully wedded in Statute No. 160,065. It's still in force:
Butter and cheese to be served. Every person, firm or corporation duly licensed to operate a hotel or restaurant shall serve with each meal for which a charge of twenty-five cents or more is made, at least two-thirds of an ounce of Wisconsin butter and two-thirds of an ounce of Wisconsin cheese.
Besides Longhorn, Wisconsin leads in Limburger. It produces so much Swiss that the state is sometimes called Swissconsin.
Sixty-five Sizzling Rabbits
That nice little smoky room at the "Salutation," which is even now continually presenting itself to my recollection, with all its associated train of pipes, egg-hot, welsh-rabbits, metaphysics and poetry.
Charles Lamb, IN A LETTER TO COLERIDGE
Unlike the beginning of the classical Jugged Hare recipe: "First catch your hare!" we modern Rabbit-hunters start off with "First catch your Cheddar!" And some of us go so far as to smuggle in formerly forbidden fromages such as Gruyere, Neufchatel, Parmesan, and mixtures thereof. We run the gamut of personal preferences in selecting the Rabbit cheese itself, from old-time American, yellow or store cheese, to Coon and Canadian-smoked, though all of it is still Cheddar, no matter how you slice it.
Then, too, guests are made to run the gauntlet of all-American trimmings from pin-money pickles to peanut butter, succotash and maybe marshmallows; we add mustard, chill, curry, tabasco and sundry bottled red devils from the grocery store, to add pep and piquance to the traditional cayenne and black pepper. This results in Rabbits that are out of focus, out of order and out of this world.
Among modern sins of omission, the Worcestershire sauce is left out by braggarts who aver that they can take it or leave it. And, in these degenerate days, when it comes to substitutions for the original beer or stale pale ale, we find the gratings of great Cheddars wet down with mere California sherry or even ginger ale—yet so far, thank goodness, no Cokes. And there's tomato juice out of a can into the Rum Turn Tiddy, and sometimes celery soup in place of milk or cream.
In view of all this, we can only look to the standard cookbooks for salvation. These are mostly compiled by women, our thoughtful mothers, wives and sweethearts who have saved the twin Basic Rabbits for us. If it weren't for these Fanny Farmers, the making of a real aboriginal Welsh Rabbit would be a lost art—lost in sporting male attempts to improve upon the original.
The girls are still polite about the whole thing and protectively pervert the original spelling of "Rabbit" to "Rarebit" in their culinary guides. We have heard that once a club of ladies in high society tried to high-pressure the publishers of Mr. Webster's dictionary to change the old spelling in their favor. Yet there is a lot to be said for this more genteel and appetizing rendering of the word, for the Welsh masterpiece is, after all, a very rare bit of cheesemongery, male or female.
Yet in dealing with "Rarebits" the distaff side seldom sets down more than the basic Adam and Eve in a whole Paradise of Rabbits: No. 1, the wild male type made with beer, and No. 2, the mild female made with milk. Yet now that the chafing dish has come back to stay, there's a flurry in the Rabbit warren and the new cooking encyclopedias give up to a dozen variants. Actually there are easily half a gross of valid ones in current esteem.
The two basic recipes are differentiated by the liquid ingredient, but both the beer and the milk are used only one way—warm, or anyway at room temperature. And again for the two, there is but one traditional cheese—Cheddar, ripe, old or merely aged from six months onward. This is also called American, store, sharp, Rabbit, yellow, beer, Wisconsin Longhorn, mouse, and even rat.
The seasoned, sapid Cheddar-type, so indispensable, includes dozens of varieties under different names, regional or commercial. These are easily identified as sisters-under-the-rinds by all five senses:
sight: Golden yellow and mellow to the eye. It's one of those round cheeses that also tastes round in the mouth.
hearing: By thumping, a cheese-fancier, like a melon-picker, can tell if a Cheddar is rich, ripe and ready for the Rabbit. When you hear your dealer say, "It's six months old or more," enough said.
smell: A scent as fresh as that of the daisies and herbs the mother milk cow munched "will hang round it still." Also a slight beery savor.
touch: Crumbly—a caress to the fingers.
taste: The quintessence of this fivefold test. Just cuddle a crumb with your tongue and if it tickles the taste buds it's prime. When it melts in your mouth, that's proof it will melt in the pan.
Beyond all this (and in spite of the school that plumps for the No. 2 temperance alternative) we must point out that beer has a special affinity for Cheddar. The French have clearly established this in their names for Welsh Rabbit, Fromage Fondue a la Biere and Fondue a l'Anglaise.
To prepare such a cheese for the pan, each Rabbit hound may have a preference all his own, for here the question comes up of how it melts best. Do you shave, slice, dice, shred, mince, chop, cut, scrape or crumble it in the fingers? This will vary according to one's temperament and the condition of the cheese. Generally, for best results it is coarsely grated. When it comes to making all this into a rare bit of Rabbit there is:
The One and Only Method
Use a double boiler, or preferably a chafing dish, avoiding aluminum and other soft metals. Heat the upper pan by simmering water in the lower one, but don't let the water boil up or touch the top pan.
Most, but not all, Rabbits are begun by heating a bit of butter or margarine in the pan in which one cup of roughly grated cheese, usually sharp Cheddar, is melted and mixed with one-half cup of liquid, added gradually. (The butter isn't necessary for a cheese that should melt by itself.)
The two principal ingredients are melted smoothly together and kept from curdling by stirring steadily in one direction only, over an even heat. The spoon used should be of hard wood, sterling silver or porcelain. Never use tin, aluminum or soft metal—the taste may come off to taint the job.
Be sure the liquid is at room temperature, or warmer, and add it gradually, without interrupting the stirring. Do not let it come to the bubbling point, and never let it boil.
Add seasonings only when the cheese is melted, which will take two or three minutes. Then continue to stir in the same direction without an instant's letup, for maybe ten minutes or more, until the Rabbit is smooth. The consistency and velvety smoothness depend a good deal on whether or not an egg, or a beaten yolk, is added.
The hotter the Rabbit is served, the better. You can sizzle the top with a salamander or other branding iron, but in any case set it forth as nearly sizzling as possible, on toast hellishly hot, whether it's browned or buttered on one side or both.
Give a thought to the sad case of the "little dog whose name was Rover, and when he was dead he was dead all over." Something very similar happens with a Rabbit that's allowed to cool down—when it's cold it's cold all over, and you can't resuscitate it by heating.
BASIC WELSH RABBIT
No. 1 (with beer)
2 tablespoons butter 3 cups grated old Cheddar 1/2 teaspoon English dry mustard 1/2 teaspoon salt A dash of cayenne 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten with 1/2 cup light beer or ale 4 slices hot buttered toast
Over boiling water melt butter and cheese together, stirring steadily with a wooden (or other tasteless) spoon in one direction only. Add seasonings and do not interrupt your rhythmic stirring, as you pour in a bit at a time of the beer-and-egg mixture until it's all used up.
It may take many minutes of constant stirring to achieve the essential creamy thickness and then some more to slick it out as smooth as velvet.
Keep it piping hot but don't let it bubble, for a boiled Rabbit is a spoiled Rabbit. Only unremitting stirring (and the best of cheese) will keep it from curdling, getting stringy or rubbery. Pour the Rabbit generously over crisp, freshly buttered toast and serve instantly on hot plates.
Usually crusts are cut off the bread before toasting, and some aesthetes toast one side only, spreading the toasted side with cold butter for taste contrast. Lay the toast on the hot plate, buttered side down, and pour the Rabbit over the porous untoasted side so it can soak in. (This is recommended in Lady Llanover's recipe, which appears on page 52 of this book.)
Although the original bread for Rabbit toast was white, there is now no limit in choice among whole wheat, graham, rolls, muffins, buns, croutons and crackers, to infinity.
No. 2 (with milk)
For a rich milk Rabbit use 1/2 cup thin cream, evaporated milk, whole milk or buttermilk, instead of beer as in No. 1. Then, to keep everything bland, cut down the mustard by half or leave it out, and use paprika in place of cayenne. As in No. 1, the use of Worcestershire sauce is optional, although our feeling is that any spirited Rabbit would resent its being left out.
Either of these basic recipes can be made without eggs, and more cheaply, although the beaten egg is a guarantee against stringiness. When the egg is missing, we are sad to record that a teaspoon or so of cornstarch generally takes its place.
Rabbiteers are of two minds about fast and slow heating and stirring, so you'll have to adjust that to your own experience and rhythm. As a rule, the heat is reduced when the cheese is almost melted, and speed of stirring slows when the eggs and last ingredients go in.
Many moderns who have found that monosodium glutamate steps up the flavor of natural cheese, put it in at the start, using one-half teaspoon for each cup of grated Cheddar. When it comes to pepper you are fancy-free. As both black and white pepper are now held in almost equal esteem, you might equip your hutch with twin hand-mills to do the grinding fresh, for this is always worth the trouble. Tabasco sauce is little used and needs a cautious hand, but some addicts can't leave it out any more than they can swear off the Worcestershire.
The school that plumps for malty Rabbits and the other that goes for milky ones are equally emphatic in their choice. So let us consider the compromise of our old friend Frederick Philip Stieff, the Baltimore homme de bouche, as he set it forth for us years ago in 10,000 Snacks: "The idea of cooking a Rabbit with beer is an exploded and dangerous theory. Tap your keg or open your case of ale or beer and serve with, not in your Rabbit."
The Stieff Recipe BASIC MILK RABBIT (completely surrounded by a lake of malt beverages)
2 cups grated sharp cheese 3 heaping tablespoons butter 1-1/2 cups milk 4 eggs 1 heaping tablespoon mustard 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce Pepper, salt and paprika to taste—then add more of each.
Grease well with butter the interior of your double boiler so that no hard particles of cheese will form in the mixture later and contribute undesirable lumps.
Put cheese, well-grated, into the double boiler and add butter and milk. From this point vigorous stirring should be indulged in until Rabbit is ready for serving.
Prepare a mixture of Worcestershire sauce, mustard, pepper, salt and paprika. These should be beaten until light and then slowly poured into the double boiler. Nothing now remains to be done except to stir and cook down to proper consistency over a fairly slow flame. The finale has not arrived until you can drip the rabbit from the spoon and spell the word finis on the surface. Pour over two pieces of toast per plate and send anyone home who does not attack it at once.
This is sufficient for six gourmets or four gourmands.
Nota bene: A Welsh Rabbit, to be a success, should never be of the consistency whereby it may be used to tie up bundles, nor yet should it bounce if inadvertently dropped on the kitchen floor.
Lady Llanover's Toasted Welsh Rabbit
Cut a slice of the real Welsh cheese made of sheep's and cow's milk; toast it at the fire on both sides, but not so much as to drop (melt). Toast on one side a piece of bread less than 1/4 inch thick, to be quite crisp, and spread it very thinly with fresh, cold butter on the toasted side. (It must not be saturated.) Lay the toasted cheese upon the untoasted bread side and serve immediately on a very hot plate. The butter on the toast can, of course, be omitted. (It is more frequently eaten without butter.)
From this original toasting of the cheese many Englishmen still call Welsh Rabbit "Toasted Cheese," but Lady Llanover goes on to point out that the Toasted Rabbit of her Wales and the Melted or Stewed Buck Rabbit of England (which has become our American standard) are as different in the making as the regional cheeses used in them, and she says that while doctors prescribed the toasted Welsh as salubrious for invalids, the stewed cheese of Olde England was "only adapted to strong digestions."
English literature rings with praise for the toasted cheese of Wales and England. There is Christopher North's eloquent "threads of unbeaten gold, shining like gossamer filaments (that may be pulled from its tough and tenacious substance)."
Yet not all of the references are complimentary.
Thus Shakespeare in King Lear:
Look, look a mouse! Peace, peace;—this piece of toasted cheese will do it.
And Sydney Smith's:
Old friendships are destroyed by toasted cheese, and hard salted meat has led to suicide.
But Khys Davis in My Wales makes up for such rudenesses:
The Welsh Enter Heaven
The Lord had been complaining to St. Peter of the dearth of good singers in Heaven. "Yet," He said testily, "I hear excellent singing outside the walls. Why are not those singers here with me?"
St. Peter said, "They are the Welsh. They refuse to come in; they say they are happy enough outside, playing with a ball and boxing and singing such songs as 'Suspan Fach'"
The Lord said, "I wish them to come in here to sing Bach and Mendelssohn. See that they are in before sundown."
St. Peter went to the Welsh and gave them the commands of the Lord. But still they shook their heads. Harassed, St. Peter went to consult with St. David, who, with a smile, was reading the works of Caradoc Evans.
St. David said, "Try toasted cheese. Build a fire just inside the gates and get a few angels to toast cheese in front of it" This St. Peter did. The heavenly aroma of the sizzling, browning cheese was wafted over the walls and, with loud shouts, a great concourse of the Welsh came sprinting in. When sufficient were inside to make up a male voice choir of a hundred, St Peter slammed the gates. However, it is said that these are the only Welsh in Heaven.
And, lest we forget, the wonderful drink that made Alice grow and grow to the ceiling of Wonderland contained not only strawberry jam but toasted cheese.
Then there's the frightening nursery rhyme:
The Irishman loved usquebaugh, The Scot loved ale called Bluecap. The Welshman, he loved toasted cheese, And made his mouth like a mousetrap.
The Irishman was drowned in usquebaugh, The Scot was drowned in ale, The Welshman he near swallowed a mouse But he pulled it out by the tail.
And, perhaps worst of all, Shakespeare, no cheese-lover, this tune in Merry Wives of Windsor:
'Tis time I were choked by a bit of toasted cheese.
An elaboration of the simple Welsh original went English with Dr. William Maginn, the London journalist whose facile pen enlivened the Blackwoods Magazine era with Ten Tales:
Dr. Maginn's Rabbit
Much is to be said in favor of toasted cheese for supper. It is the cant to say that Welsh rabbit is heavy eating. I like it best in the genuine Welsh way, however—that is, the toasted bread buttered on both sides profusely, then a layer of cold roast beef with mustard and horseradish, and then, on the top of all, the superstratum, of Cheshire thoroughly saturated, while, in the process of toasting, with genuine porter, black pepper, and shallot vinegar. I peril myself upon the assertion that this is not a heavy supper for a man who has been busy all day till dinner in reading, writing, walking or riding—who has occupied himself between dinner and supper in the discussion of a bottle or two of sound wine, or any equivalent—and who proposes to swallow at least three tumblers of something hot ere he resigns himself to the embrace of Somnus. With these provisos, I recommend toasted cheese for supper.
The popularity of this has come down to us in the succinct summing-up, "Toasted cheese hath no master."
The Welsh original became simple after Dr. Maginn's supper sandwich was served, a century and a half ago; for it was served as a savory to sum up and help digest a dinner, in this form:
Remove all crusts from bread slices, toast on both sides and soak to saturation in hot beer. Melt thin slices of sharp old cheese in butter in an iron skillet, with an added spot of beer and dry English mustard. Stir steadily with a wooden spoon and, when velvety, serve a-sizzle on piping hot beer-soaked toast.
While toasted cheese undoubtedly was the Number One dairy dish of Anglo-Saxons, stewed cheese came along to rival it in Elizabethan London. This sophisticated, big-city dish, also called a Buck Rabbit, was the making of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street, where Dr. Johnson later presided. And it must have been the pick of the town back in the days when barrooms still had sawdust on the floor, for the learned Doctor endorsed old Omar Khayyam's love of the pub with: "There is nothing which has been contrived by man by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern." Yet he was no gourmet, as may be judged by his likening of a succulent, golden-fried oyster to "a baby's ear dropped in sawdust."
Perhaps it is just as well that no description of the world's first Golden Buck has come down from him. But we don't have to look far for on-the-spot pen pictures by other men of letters at "The Cheese," as it was affectionately called. To a man they sang praises for that piping hot dish of preserved and beatified milk.
Inspired by stewed cheese, Mark Lemon, the leading rhymester of Punch, wrote the following poem and dedicated it to the memory of Lovelace:
Champagne will not a dinner make, Nor caviar a meal Men gluttonous and rich may take Those till they make them ill If I've potatoes to my chop, And after chop have cheese, Angels in Pond and Spiers's shop Know no such luxuries.
All that's necessary is an old-time "cheese stewer" or a reasonable substitute. The base of this is what was once quaintly called a "hot-water bath." This was a sort of miniature wash boiler just big enough to fit in snugly half a dozen individual tins, made squarish and standing high enough above the bath water to keep any of it from getting into the stew. In these tins the cheese is melted. But since such a tinsmith's contraption is hard to come by in these days of fireproof cooking glass, we suggest muffin tins, ramekins or even small cups to crowd into the bottom of your double boiler or chafing dish. But beyond this we plump for a revival of the "cheese stewer" in stainless steel, silver or glass.
In the ritual at "The Cheese," these dishes, brimming over, "bubbling and blistering with the stew," followed a pudding that's still famous. Although down the centuries the recipe has been kept secret, the identifiable ingredients have been itemized as follows: "Tender steak, savory oyster, seductive kidney, fascinating lark, rich gravy, ardent pepper and delicate paste"—not to mention mushrooms. And after the second or third helping of pudding, with a pint of stout, bitter, or the mildest and mellowest brown October Ale in a dented pewter pot, "the stewed Cheshire cheese."
Cheese was the one and only other course prescribed by tradition and appetite from the time when Charles II aled and regaled Nell Gwyn at "The Cheese," where Shakespeare is said to have sampled this "kind of a glorified Welsh Rarebit, served piping hot in the square shallow tins in which it is cooked and garnished with sippets of delicately colored toast."
Among early records is this report of Addison's in The Spectator of September 25,1711:
They yawn for a Cheshire cheese, and begin about midnight, when the whole company is disposed to be drowsy. He that yawns widest, and at the same time so naturally as to produce the most yawns amongst his spectators, carries home the cheese.