Saturday, July 01, 2006

Say Cheese!

After a day filled with excellent company and the delights of shopping for good food, I returned home with goodies for a full refrigerator and ideas for plenty of good meals.

So what did I have for dinner? Something I didn't have to cook!

What can I say? Though it was an enjoyable day, it was also an exhausting one, and I came home to near 90-degree temperatures and the need to mow both lawns. After that, I wanted something simple and light.

Happily, I had just the meal in mind.

Several months ago, while dining with the lovely Phoenix at the local Bistro, I decided to forego a sweet dessert in favor of the cheese plate, and I ended up with three wonderful cheeses plus what amounted to a second salad of mixed greens tossed with a tangy Dijon vinaigrette.

That sounded just as good tonight as it did then, so I pulled out the organic salad greens from the Cheerful Lady and whipped up a light vinaigrette to toss over it, and I sliced a couple of pieces off the small sourdough loaf I had picked up at West Point Market.

Among my other purchases at West Point today were five cheeses: a dill-laced Havarti for making grits later on, an herbed goat cheese for a recipe I'll probably make tomorrow, and three cheeses chosen simply for eating on their own. And those three cheeses, Dear Readers, are what ended up on my dinner plate.

The first cheese, shown at the left, is Prima Donna, one of my favorites. This lightly aged (perhaps 1 year) Gouda has a firm, chewy texture, a delicately creamy mouth feel, and a caramel finish to the flavor with just a hint of flowers behind it. I've raved about this cheese before, and I still get a little swoony when I eat it.

The second cheese, in the middle, is Cahill's Porter. I'm not sure if the cheese itself is a white Cheddar, but it tastes very similar with a briefly sharp edge. The trademark characteristic of this cheese, though, is that it is marbled with Guinness.

That dark brew permeates the somewhat lighter cheese, and with every bite, you sink from that initial sharp taste into a deeper, richer, almost chocolatey flavor that reminds you of the best brownie you ever ate in your life... you know, the one that was so dark and decadent that it had an almost-but-not-quite alcoholic edge to it.

I love Cheddar with apple pie, so I think this year I might have to try this one with it.

Finally, on the right is Cambozola Bleu, an almost clownish name for one of the most voluptuous cheeses I've ever eaten. The buttery, creamy, almost oozing texture and the soft rind call to mind a superb Camembert, and the tang of the mold comes from a good Gorgonzola, making this a comparatively mild and stunningly tasty Bleu cheese. Since it's not as overpowering as most Bleus (aside from Saga, long my favorite), it would be an ideal cheese for someone who was put off by Bleus but enjoyed a good Brie or Camembert.

Both stores had this particular cheese out as a sampling cheese, so even though I succumbed to its lure at West Point and bought a wedge there, I enjoyed another nibble of it at Mustard Seed. It paired well with the sourdough bread, though I found myself wishing I had some red grapes for the perfect finish.

I've always enjoyed cheese in its many forms (which is the main reason why I can't go vegan for very long), and as I've gotten older and developed a more adventurous palate, I've enjoyed trying new kinds of cheese and comparing flavors and textures like this. Fortunately, while I'm grateful that West Point has an amazing cheese section with more varieties than I can begin to comprehend and sample, I'm also grateful that the store is nearly an hour away so that I can't indulge too often.

But when I do... I make it worth my time.


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