Friday, July 28, 2017

THE PROVERBIAL CHEESE

My recent mention of ant-infested camembert got various people talking about casu marzu.  That’s the traditional Sardinian sheep’s cheese containing living maggots.  Thus:


It is, I understand, made by taking a full pecorino cheese, and punching a hole in the rind, thereby allowing Piophila casei (otherwise known as the cheese fly) to get in and lay eggs. The eggs hatch and the newborn maggots start to eat the cheese, excreting “acids” (as the more euphemistic literature describes it) which break down the hard pecorino and turn it into a soft cheese.  The lore states that you have to eat the cheese while the maggots are alive and kicking, resulting in a flavor (according to reports – I have no personal experience) that tastes like a peppery cross between a pecorino and a gorgonzola; which, if true, doesn’t sound like a taste worth all that trouble.



As for the law, well there’s considerable debate and contradiction about where and whether casu marzu is legal.  You’ll find plenty of sources that tell you it’s banned under US and EU regulations.  Nevertheless, the interwebs are pulsing with people who’ve eaten it and written about it, often under titles like “My Lifelong Search for the World’s Most Dangerous Cheese.”   

And of course some people have eaten casu marzu at their local Italian restaurant.  Below is a friend of Bradley Hawk (who runs the website Amuse Bouche) eating it at Ornella Trattoria in Astoria, Queens.


And will you be surprised that the likes of Ramsey and Zimmern have been filmed eating it?



 Would I want to eat casu marzu?  Well yes, of course I would, for the experience, although I don’t know how pleasurable it would be.  There seems to be quite a psychologically barrier to eating live maggots, presumably because the presence of maggots is a pretty reliable marker that food isn’t fit to eat.  Also it also seems unnecessarily hard on the maggots, but I suppose I would (in some sense) find it “edible.”

The only inedible cheese I’ve confronted in living memory was this: Organic Bob’s Knobs, a Lancashire cheese. 


I’m not sure if the problem was with me or with it. It does have a warning on the label saying its their strongest cheese yet, but I’m no wimp in these matters, and in reality it smelled and tasted of nothing but ammonia.  It had come a long way, and as you see, it was encased in wax and maybe that was the real issue, because I can’t really believe it was meant to taste the way it did.  A couple of slivers was as much as I could eat.

Poking around online, researching casu marzu, I discover, and I suppose I’d have realized this sooner if I’d ever thought about it, there are more cheese blogs out there than you can shake a stick at, some very corporate, some very personal, though the latter tend to have short lives.  I was intrigued by a site titled Cheese Poet, but there hasn’t had a post since 2012.  Without it, I’d never have been aware of the existence of the From Girls (as in fromage) and their calendar:



The supermarket nearest to where I live is a Gelson’s – “really high prices when you can’t be bothered to go anywhere else” - but they do have a pretty decent cheese selection.  So, full of cheese-based enthusiasm, I went in and bought myself some Melkbus 149 Truffle Gouda – “contains truffle and truffle flavor” according to the label. 



And you know it’s pretty good – tangy, little bit sour, the truffle flavor is well back in the mix, and it it’s much softer and creamier than most Gouda which is a plus in my opinion.  Edible?  You bet.  See, this cheese blogging is as easy as falling off a log.


It's a visual pun, OK?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

CHEESE ANTICS

So I got in late-ish on Saturday night having been out to see a band, and I hadn’t managed to get anything to eat.  So I opened the fridge took out a camembert, ate a wedge, and went to bed.  Got up Sunday morning and there it was:


 - a scene from Salvador Dali.  I’d neglected to put the camembert back in the fridge and the ants were having a big cheese orgy.


Actually the Dali-allusion helped me feel better about it somehow – especially given that Dali’s recent exhumation is much in the news.  "The orgies and sex life of Salvador Dali as paternity claim questions his lifelong 'I am impotent' boast" says the Daily Mirror.

I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the ant-colonized cheese so I put it in the freezer.  I assume the ants are dead by now or at least in cryogenic suspension.  I wonder if it’ll ruin the taste of the cheese.  I’ll find out soon enough, I expect.

And, for further Dali-esque surrealist food fun, here's a photograph of the man himself with a 12 meter long loaf of bread.  Staff of life, I suppose:


Friday, July 21, 2017

MMM ... LIBERAL PORTIONS

This just in from the Twitter feed of the Pulp Librarian:


I haven't, but lunch time is less than two hours away.

Monday, July 17, 2017

LIFE WITH THE DULL BITS CUT OUT

The Turner Classic Movies channel is having an Alfred Hitchcock celebration, and so in a slightly listless way, in the last couple of weeks I’ve watched The 39 Steps (1935) and Lifeboat (1944).




I think we’re all aware, given Hitchcock’s size and shape, that he may have had a few “food issues” – and there is some quite odd stuff in these two movies.


In The 39 Steps, for one reason or another, Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll get handcuffed together, then take shelter for the night in a Scottish inn, where the landlady assumes they’re a runaway couple, and is keen to help with the romance.  She serves them sandwiches.  There’s also some stuff about Madeleine Carroll getting her feet wet and having to dry her stockings, which results in a scene that looks like this:


In Lifeboat, adrift on the open seas with dwindling supplies, the whole cast is obviously much obsessed with food since they’re in danger of dying from hunger and thirst, and here’s Tallullah Bankhead with a typewriter and a cracker:


 Which got me thinking about Tallullah Bankhead.  We all know who she is, but she really didn’t make very many films, and I’ve never seen her in anything except Lifeboat. I don’t think I even saw her in the 1960s Batman.



And yet she’s thoroughly famous – partly for her alleged bad behavior, and for her wit, some of which seems a bit forced, though still enjoyable.



She once explained why she called everybody “dahling.” “Because all my life I've been terrible at remembering people's names. I once introduced a friend of mine as Martini. Her name was actually Olive.”


I’d so like to believe that.


Friday, July 14, 2017

TROPIC OF GOURMANDS


I was only ever once in a room with the late Jim Harrison.  It was the green room at a literary festival – and yes, drink had been taken, and his gaze was even more alarming than in the picture above.  Joyce Carol Oates was there too, talking about how much she liked boxing.



I haven’t read a lot of Harrison’s work – his food writing was always a bit too self-consciously “gonzo” for my tastes - though I do remember his piece about suffering from gout, which appears in his The Raw and the Cooked.  (I'm not sure that absolutely everyone would want the words "the Henry Miller of food writing" emblazoned above their name.)


I can’t actually find my copy of the book at the moment, though I seem to recall that, like a surprising number of gout sufferers, he thought that there was something unmanly about taking anti-gout medication, which is silly.   One small allopurinol tablet a day is all it takes, trust me on this.

I see there’s a newly published, posthumous collection of Harrison’s food writing, titled The Really Big Lunch.


Here are some lines from it, which have given me a lot to think about.  Harrison writes, “You, as a writer, must mix essential gluttony and writing carefully.  Despite your complains you have lots of time to do so.  Good food is much more important than the mediocre writing that pervades the earth.”
I sort of agree, and I think Harrison and I would have had similar ideas about what constitutes good food, good writing I’m not so sure.  Not that he would have cared, obviously.




Tuesday, July 4, 2017

OH CANADIA!



So, since July 1st was Canada Day and since July 4th was US Independence Day, I decided to enjoy a joint celebration by turning to my copy of Mme. Jehane Benoit's Encyclopedia of Canadian Cooking, published 1970, and making something Canadian but using all–American ingredients.  I went for cream of parsley soup. 


Mme Benoit was quite a big deal in Canada back in the day, it seems, but her encyclopedia is a plain affair - “don’t look in this book … for recipes that resemble esoteric puzzles you must read ten times to understand” and the parsley soup recipe certainly doesn’t ask too much of the cook. (The book also contains a recipe for dry bread soup but I was aiming higher than that). 

a l'avant-garde du temps,  indeed

To make cream of parsley soup you chop up some parsley: probably best to use more than the recipe says, and also probably cut it smaller than I did.  Then you boil it in stock for 20 minutes.  



Simultaneously, and separately, you make a white sauce (butter, flour and milk) and when that’s done you combine it with the boiled parsley.



Trying to make the dish just a little less plain I added some onion and a splash of lemon juice (yes, I am a wild man) –and you could use sherry, I’m sure.


Now some might say this is just a slight variation on parsley sauce – but it was perfectly good – if not necessarily the very most exuberant way of celebrating a national holiday.  The recipe also recommends you serve the soup with a bowl of grated cheese, which arguably converts it into a slight variation on cheese sauce, or I suppose cheese soup.


You know when I first saw those Andy Warhol soup can images that include Campbell’s Cheddar Cheese Soup (“great as a sauce”) – I imagined this was Warhol’s own playfully ironic invention.  I couldn't imagine there was any such thing as cheese soup.  It took me decades to realize this was a real thing.  Thus the gulf between the two Anglophone sides of the Atlantic.




You know, if you dig around on the interwebs you can see Andy Warhol eating all kinds of thing, but I haven’t ever seen a picture of him eating cheese soup.  I think, on balance, this is not very surprising.