First off, I can’t believe I’ve never written about cheese before. Great cheese is a perfect example of why I can’t, and will likely never be okay with the ‘I can’t cook’ approach to eating. With the quality and diversity of food available, if you can’t serve nice food most of your problem is you just don’t know how to shop. I know, not everyone is going to go spend an evening in a specialty food store exploring what cool things they stock [like me…]. But it’s not necessary. Neither is super-specialized ultra-pretentious knowledge of niche items that make you awesome. What is required is a great source for quality cheese.
You’ll know you’ve found one when there is no hesitation when you ask ‘can I try some’. Easy measure. If they let you try it, I approve. And odds are, the cheese guy/gal knows where to get some good bread, and likely some great cured meats or other cool charcuterie or deli stuff. But you have to ask. Ask. Ask for their boring cheese. Ask for their nastiest cheese. Ask what their favorites are. Do whatever. Just talk to them, give it some thought and care, and it will reward you. Another clue: this place likely is not your local box grocer. If they sell toilet paper, do not buy their cheese.
I have moments of clarity off and on with food – ‘aha’ moments, as a university proff of mine put it. And I had one tonight, with cheese. I’ve been to Neil’s Yard Dairy in London and the most exclusive cheese shops in Paris. I’ve been to specialty shops in Tuscany that load their sheep cheese with white truffle, and I’ve visited small niche sheep cheese’ producers there as well. I’ve eaten local cheese in nearly every european country. And I finally, after many years, found a cheese that brings a piece of rural Italy to my table. It’s name will remain top-secret for now. It smells of old-world nastiness, like cheese gone bad that’s sat in someones old stone cellar for too long. It’s awesome. I can now eat it as is, grate it over pasta, or put it in a cream sauce for a game dish and I’ll look like a culinary genius – simply because I have a good source for good cheese.