Cheese often saves my day when there are sudden guests or an impromptu party at my home.It is one of the best comfort foods too. A late night bite into a cheese cube is often bliss. Cheese is as versatile as the eggs- varieties of cheeses abounds so does avenues to make the cheese interesting.A sudden late evening party and my search for a cocktail snack ends with rice and cheese balls,a sudden afternoon with friends calls for some Spaghetti and some Parmesan,a lazy Sunday morning breakfast often combines egg and cheese in my multigrain slice.
Cheese has several childhood memories.Those were the days of Amul cheese cubes which my Ma used to store in the fridge for a cheese omelette or a cheese sandwich.But I loved eating them by itself and often earned the wrath of my Ma when she discovered that the cheese had just vanished.Then came the age of cheese spreads and my good times .Just dip your finger in the gooey pack and bliss is all yours.Simple cucumber sandwiches became tastier.Centuries of experimentation and innovation have resulted in varieties of cheese each with it’s own texture,taste and stink factor.These days I feel overwhelmed and lost by the exhaustive array of cheese at hyper stores.
Cheese can be classified by different parameters-texture,flavor,age,preparation method,type of milk used,color,country,region.Popular cheese blogger Marcella the Cheesemonger classified cheese into eight major families.Fresh cheese as Mascarpone,Cottage Cheese,Ricotta;Pasta Filata as Mozarella, Burrata;Soft Ripened Cheese as Brie,Camembert;Semi Soft Cheese as Havarti,Jarlsberg ;Washed Rind Cheese as Limburger; Blue Cheese as Roquefort;Semi Hard Cheese as Cheddar, Gouda;Hard Cheese as Parmigiano, Pecorino and the entire range of Processed Cheeses.
The evolution of cheese began around 5000 years ago,when people in warm Central Asia and the Middle East learned that they could preserve naturally soured,curdled milk by draining off the watery whey and salting the concentrated curd.The texture of the curd became cohesive as the curdling took place in an animal stomach.The first cheeses resembled modern day brine cured feta,still common in Balkans.The earliest evidence of cheesemaking known to date,a residue found in an Egyptian pot,dates from around 2300 BC.The birth of modern cheese was well before Roman times. Columella in his book Rei Rusticae described standard cheese making practice.Pliny mentioned that Rome got its cheeses from Nimes in southern France and the Dalmatian Alps.
Cheese as Artifacts- ” Behind every cheese there is a pasture of a different green under a different sky,meadows encrusted with salt that the tides of Normandy deposit every evening…there are different herds,with their shelters and their movements across the countryside,there are secret methods handed down over centuries.This shop is a museum ,Mr Palomar visiting it,feels as he does in Louvre,behind every cheese is the presence of the civilization that gave it form and takes form from it.” Italo Calvino,Palomar,1983.
The art of cheesemaking by late medieval times inspired connoisseur ship as the French court received shipments from Brie,Comte,Maroilles. In England, Chesire cheese became famous by Elizabethan times and Cheddar and Stiltoon by the 18th century.For the poor it became a staple,and for the rich aged cheese became a one course of their multi course feasts. Brillat Savarin wrote,”a desert without cheese is like a beautiful woman who is missing an eye.” The golden age of cheese was probably the late 19th and early 20th century as local styles developed and matured, and the railroads got the country products to the city. With the establishment of cheese factories in United States the modern decline of cheesemaking began.Cheese became an industrial product an expression, not of diverse natural and human particulars but of monolithic standard.
It is always a challenge to choose a good cheese. A late medieval compendium of recipes known as Le Menagier de Paris,included this formula to recognize a good cheese.” Not at all white like Helen,Nor weeping like Magdalene,Not Argus,but completely blind,And heavy like a buffalo…..Without eyes,without tears, not at all white,Moth eaten ,rebellious, of good weight.”
To cook with cheese is both a challenge as well as a bliss. Cheese can add both flavor and texture ,it can either melt or be crisp.Stringy cheeses are enjoyable on pizzas.The pleasure of melted cheese is beyond words.A cheese dish which always intrigues me is a Cheese Fondue.In the Swiss Alps,cheese has been melted in a communal pot at the table and kept hot over a flame for dipping bread.The ingredients for a classic fondue are alpine cheese,a tart white wine,some kitsch and sometimes starch.The combination of cheese and wine steals the show.France and Greece leads the world in per capita cheese consumption.
Last year my trip to Conoor was made memorable by a visit to a cheese farm Acres Wild .The fresh Gouda cheese which I sourced from there will be always be on my tastebuds. The entire range is hand made and includes an array of soft and hard cheese-Feta,Ricotta,Parmesan and even Blue Cheese.Hand crafted artisanal cheeses have become a niche in India and there are several homegrown cheese makers making crumb fried Camembert,salty Ricotta,cheese infused with herbs etc.My favourite cheese dishes which I love to cook apart from a cheese stuffed omelette is a simple cheesy sauce Penne pasta.It can never go wrong on warmth as well as taste.My recipe for a simple herb infused cheesy pasta is short and simple.
For cooking any pasta I prefer whole wheat ones,and for this I boiled whole wheat penne in lots of water infused with some olive oil,salt and some dried mixed herbs.I don’t like my pasta soft,so keep a close vigil on the texture.After draining out the starch filled water, I let the boiled pasta to cool for a while.For the sauce butter and minced garlic is a must.Once the butter melts in the pan,o I add a lot of minced garlic,some dried mixed herbs and when the butter is infused with the garlic, I put in a teaspoon of flour and roast it well.One should be however be careful not to brown the flour.I lower the flame,add the lukewarm milk and stir it well and avoid lumps.To this sauce I add the boiled pasta,some red chilli flakes and let it soak in the flavor. Once I add salt if necessary ,I transfer this to a baking dish and add a lot of grated Parmesan cheese and bake for a brownish soft crust .Once done I add a handful of fresh parsley.This has never failed me and love seeing happy faces of the kids of my friends slurping the melted cheese.