i’ve always loved woman. presumed their devilish mischief, adored their celeste caprice.
first time i had a taste of minuet and a look at the virago who sold it, i was smitten. the taste, the texture, the triple cream turned out a splendid adventure emulating tangy goat’s milk with cow’s milk crème fraîche. i hadn’t ever imagined such wicked diablerie, certainly never savored this richness and wouldn’t know of a like elegance to compare. my tongue was in heaven, my eyes relished the woman, i hardly heard her innuendo naming this cheese after bach’s graceful music. she smiled and said she played the cello some time ago and now she was a cheese lady and andante was her company. she had named her various cheese after musical terms. adagio, rondo, nocturne and this minuet, which, as in a dance, brought me to her market for weeks to come.
i’ve always had an affair with cheese. the liaison, the passion, the way of milk, cream and butter, the cures, conducts and customs of specific regions, habits and sources, still has me in sybaritic love with cheeses as varied as reblochon, vacherin mont d’or, parmigiano, farmhouse cheddar, pecorino, chèvre, most all triple creams, manchego, gruyère, taleggio and a little with the stilton and roquefort blues. i was lucky then, i had giorgo delucca as my consigliere, he of ‘dean and delucca’ of yore. in those early years he spent his vacation tasting cheese all over europe, importing cheeses of unheard-of names and locals, often made from raw milk, which is sadly still a tabu in the land of the free. he gradually fed me on the italians and the british, those sold through neal’s yard. taleggio was then one of my favorites. it still is. thin skinned, heavily scented, though not in the limburger tradition, it is a mild cheese, nicely fruity and fabulously adoptive, out of hand or melted into a risotto. cicero mentions this cheese and describes it as the art of the orobbi, the ancient inhabitants of bergamo. the name ‘taleggio’ has been in use before the 10th century, because it was then, as it is now, ripened in the caves of val taleggio. it is an uncooked, soft cheese made from whole cow’s milk. now long ago i was lucky twice, first to have devoured the unpasteurized version on a fast trip through lombardy, and second, and fast, furiously fast, because i chanced to drive a legend: a ‘78 930. someplace between bergamo and costa volpino, i passed several cars dawdling behind a slow truck, on a single lane highway, up-hill, in third gear, a virtual zero to sixty in under five seconds. oh, my heart still pounds at the thought.
cheese, back to cheese: another cheese i truly love is the ‘montgomery farmhouse cheddar’, as imported by neal’s yard. incidentally neal’s yard is a dairy conglomerate largely devoted to the traditional english cheese maker. their aging facilities help to mature individual productions, their help sustains those small dairy farms whose milk ultimately makes for cheese which else ways might be no longer around. montgomery cheddar is a big cheese. big and earthy, deeply complex, not as sharp as other cheddars, it melds of the milk, the richness of butter and cream. it does brittle, and often has a streak of blue veining, but in my mouth it is the very, very cheddar around. it is expensive, of course, but what would my life be otherwise? just as dear, but made at jasper hill farm in vermont, is the cabot clothbound cheddar. clothbound sounds intriguing, intimating some private affair. the cheese is the most likely challenge to montgomery’s fame. living in portland can be a foody’s dilemma, though not in this case. foster & dobbs on 15th carries both cheddars and has come to be a minor mecca for my cheese addictions.
as mentioned above, there are other cheeses, of course, still, if finally exiled, though no bonaparte, i would want some of those three, the minuet, the taleggio and the montgomery, providing saint helena stored a good wheel of parmigiano reggiano, as no other would do. i wouldn’t mind neither, if by chance i’d have my cheese lady along.