Monday, May 01, 2006

Say Cheese

The interesting thing about the Blogsphere is you never know what you might come across from the sublime to the ridiculous; it is all there. One particularly sublime site, especially if you like bakery, (actually more art than baked goods), is Jintastique. She is a pastry artist in Wisconsin and made some adorable Truffle Mice. I jokingly commented that being from Wisconsin the mice could use some truffle cheese to eat. This in turn reminded me how much I love cheese, pretty much a prerequisite to being a Wisconsinite. I believe there is even a law that states your ass will be booted across the border into Illinois if you don’t eat you cheese – if there isn’t, there should be. I can’t think of anything worse then being banished to the land of the FIBs (another Blog, another time).

I grew up on cheese. My father loved it ergo we were going to damn sure eat it. Liver fell under the same rule, but I’ll tell you eating cheese is much more pleasant then eating slimy nasty cow innards (with the possible exception of French cheese, read on for more). Our family had a travel trailer and we journeyed extensively in Wisconsin. Every trip to a new spot in Wisconsin involved a search for the local cheese factory. Different areas are known for their specialties, but the holy grail of our search was aged Brick Cheese. Age Brick is not for the faint of heart, in fact some folks use it for buzzard repellent. Mild or medium Brick, however, is very good. It is creamy with a hint of olives.

My father would make regular pilgrimages to the Beechwood, WI cheese factory and score his prized aged Brick. My brother could always tell my father had made the trip the instant he swung the door of the refrigerator open. Aged Brick has a distinctive and penetrating smell, though nowhere near as stinky and nasty as the runny dog crap the French make.

From what I understand, making Brick is a lengthy, complex process so many cheese factories have switched to making the less labor intensive Monterey Jack. Jack is ok, but it is no Brick. The factories also offer Swiss, Cheddar, smoked cheese, and many other variations. Most dairies participate in a co-op program so they have access to many types of fresh cheese. OK, most of the cheese has been aged for some time, so fresh probably isn’t the best word I could have used, but it is as close to the cow as the average consumer is going to get. Take curds for example.

Curds are a product of one of the first stages of cheese production. Cheddar curds are small lumps of proto-cheese and taste delicious, emitting a squeaking sound as you bite into them. The squeak is a sign they are fresh. You can find cheese curds in the market from time to time, languishing forlornly in a plastic resealable bag with the Mega-Dairy’s logo plastered all over it. These curds will not squeak - they are the antithesis of what the Curd experience should be. Sometimes going out of your way pays off, and the quest to find cheese is one of them.

There are some cottage industry cheeses, though the cheeses made that way aren’t necessarily cottage cheese. Farmer’s Cheese can be one of these homemade treats. You can even make cheese out of yogurt at home – it’s not too bad. Then there are the stinky runny French cheeses. I have tried them to be fair and have tasted a wide selection, in France even, but I think most of them are nasty slimy globs found growing on the bottom of some French cesspool. I have a theory that those “gourmet cheeses” play to snob appeal. The old “I am wealthy and therefore better than you - I will prove it to you by eating this stinky crap that I can afford to eat you can’t” kind of things. Caviar falls into this category, unless you enjoy eating what we usually use for bait. The moral is that not everything from Europe is better than domestic products and anything that has the word Gourmet in front of it is really going to suck. In fact, putting the word gourmet on a product is tantamount to putting the skull and crossbones on insecticide – it is a warning neither is fit to eat.

Long story even longer, while cheese might not be king in Wisconsin (I think that title belongs to either the Packers or any type of alcoholic beverage) it is still a vital element in Wisconsin Society. Hell, we even have “America’s Dairyland” on our license plates, even though that just isn’t true. There are states with a bigger dairy industry, but “America’s Gravel pit” or “The Pea State” don’t exactly roll off the tongue so America’s Dairyland it is. Besides Alice in Dairyland, the presiding Royalty at the Wisconsin State Fair would come off kind of butch as the “Sand and Gravel Queen”. Now it is up to you, get off your ass, head for Wisconsin and eat some damn cheese. Screw California.

17 Comments:

At 2:13 PM, Blogger Sarah Letnes said...

Illinois isn't that bad. Okay, I could really tell when I left Illinois, because suddenly most of the drivers were sane, but Illinois isn't that bad.

 
At 2:49 PM, Blogger nanuk said...

Great cheese is better than average sex.

I share your disdain for ersatz curd cheese: it's got to squeek or it's just plain crap.

I'm a big cheddar fan, the raunchier the better. Strong cheddar should taste like it's been aged between the toes of a marathon runner with a personal hygiene problem. And while French semi-soft cheeses can stink to high heaven, I assure you that they're like angels shitting on your tongue they taste so divine.

About the only type of cheeses I don't like are the smoked ones. The smoke just masks all that is great about cheese.

 
At 4:01 PM, Blogger jin said...

You have me laughing so hard I've got tears running down my cheeks!!!

I too, remember driving miles & miles out into the country (with my parents, aunts, grandparents, etc.) when I was a kid to those cheese factories.

Many of them are closed now...so we're the dairyland state, yeah?! Right...you know where my heavy whipping cream comes from? Minnesota! I kid you, not! I can't even purchase cream made in WI. I used to get it from a local farmer, glass bottles...just like it should be...got closed down because they couldn't afford all the new machinery they were thold they had to replace. Of course, this requires more licensing which costs more money & so on & so forth...

I agree on the French cheese & caviar. I worked in a very posh restaurant for a while when I was younger & kept tasting them because of how everybody raved...but, YUCK! :-P

Ok, now that I've written a novel in your comment section, THANK YOU for the link!!
:-D

 
At 4:55 PM, Blogger The Phosgene Kid said...

SL: Illinois Sucks, you lived there too long.

Nanuck: I like the extrasharp cheddar too, but the you can eat the French crap through a straw and it tastes pretty much like I would imagine the unwashed dude that made it smells.

The fact I don't like it just means more for you!!

Jin: Mop worries I really like your site and the pieces you create are fantastic - have you seen Gnats' glass blowing? That is spectacular too.

 
At 5:56 PM, Blogger Becky said...

You like cheese don't you..... lol

 
At 6:44 PM, Blogger Eternally Curious said...

You mean cheese isn't that perfectly flat, square stuff that comes individually wrapped, 16 or 32 to a package???

I'm k i d d i n g !!!!!!!!

 
At 9:27 PM, Blogger The Phosgene Kid said...

Becky: why yes I do! It will probably make my heart wseize eventually, but I will die happy;

EC: If you are buying American "cheese", here's a science fact - chemically the cheese and the wrapper it comes in are the same.

 
At 9:30 PM, Blogger Sarah Letnes said...

I so did not live there too long!

 
At 9:34 PM, Blogger The Phosgene Kid said...

Sarah, this is an intervention - we love you a lot but you were in Illanoise way too long and you are in denial...

 
At 1:18 AM, Blogger fairscape said...

PK

Pretty cheesy post- just kidding. Loved it.

During my big illness (cancer) I found myself unable to eat most foods. The foods I was able to eat I lovingly referred to as the Wisconsin Prison Diet. I basically lived on tea, saltines and cheese for a few months. I still eat a cheese sandwich every day or my system starts a revolution. I owe my life to cheese. I guess I will always be addicted to the hard stuff-especially swiss.

 
At 5:04 AM, Blogger Die Muräne said...

I love that really stinking mountain cheeses. bloody good tucker! It is not possible for a cheese to stink to much. they stink just right. haha

 
At 11:57 AM, Blogger Sarah Letnes said...

Well you've been exposed to too much Anthrax vaccine. Because Illinois has my Grandma and the City of Naperville, and I fully intend to return for visits. Naperville is only one of the best cities to live in the U.S. Aside from being very whitebread with a hush-hush undertone of deep-seated racism that might have been imaginary on my part, it is clean, well kept and has a low crime rate. It has some of the best restaurants in the world, and contains one of the four carillons, in the whole world, with a range of eight octaves.

I think when I die, I want them to sprinkle my ashes in the Naperville Public Library, because I think that was as close to heaven as I'm ever going to get.

 
At 2:05 PM, Blogger Cherry! said...

I love cheese, but my ass doesn't. The cheese wins every time. I disagree on the French cheese and caviar though. I could live on the stuff! These days it's mainly Paramsen or Gorgonzola cheese that I'm eating. YUM!!

 
At 3:48 PM, Blogger Chickie said...

Cheese + baby dill pickles = Good

 
At 5:04 PM, Blogger The Phosgene Kid said...

Sarah: Naperville is in Illinois, therefore it sucks.

Fairscape: The WI prison diet, that is funny! Here the sheriff serves the prisoners green baloney.

DM: You have one og the finest cheeses in the world at your diposal - Guyere. Lay off the Frog stank cheese.

Cherry: You are an expensive date! I like the parmesan, but a little goes a long way

Chikie have you tried deep fried pickles? I thought it was a joke until my brother ordered some. They are breaded and deep fried, not too bad!!

 
At 1:17 PM, Blogger Tea and Books, etc said...

I also dislike the drippy, gooey cheeses but love pretty much all others. :-)

 
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