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Cheese monged

December 15, 2009
tags: ,

If you’ve ever met me, you probably know that I’m made up of approximately 23% cheese, and am trying with all my might to up that number whenever possible. I recently reviewed the Best Food Writing of 2009 for Booklist, and found this preposterous gem of a line: “When you eat cheese, you mainline the uncut elixir of life.” A totally ridiculous thing to say, to be sure, but also kind of great and a sentiment that I can totally relate to. But, sadly enough, I’m a total idiot when it comes to remembering anything when I venture outside of the heavyweight class of cheddars and such. So, in the interest of committing to memory any new cheese dabblings, I’ll use this flog to create a handy reference source for me.

I went in to Whole Foods to get a Gruyere and Emmentaler for fondue, which is what I always use and love to death. But, said I to I, why not dabble a bit? I got talking to the fromage-dealer and nibbled a few samples, and ended up with two slight variations on the theme.

Taking the place of the Gruyere was a Piave. The little sign said it was similar to a Gruyere, but a little sharper. I’m all about sharp, so seemed like a good fit. Also, it was on a killer half-off sale and I’d eaten about half the sample bites so figured I should buy some.

Critter: Cow. Region: Paive River, Italy. Type: Hard. Rawness: Not raw. Also sometimes called a Piave vecchio (“old”) or stravecchio (“extra-old”). Via (who seem to know what they’re talking about):

Piave is named after the river Piave, whose source is found at Mount Peralba in Val Visdende, in the northernmost part of the province of Veneto, Italy. The land surrounding the ancient river is integral to the character of the cheese: it is where the milk is collected, the curd cooked, and the cheese aged until hard. Piave has an intense, full-bodied flavor, reminiscent of Parmigiano Reggiano, that intensifies with age and makes this cheese absolutely unique. Pair Piave with Zinfandel.

And, in place of the Emmentaler was (/checks label) a Vacherin Fribourgeois. This one came after much deliberation with the cheese guy, but mainly I thought if I was going to get all snooty I might as well get a cheese whose very name will make the proletariat rise up and smite me. Plus, neato rind.

Critter: Cow. Region: The Fribourg canton (what’s a canton?), Switzerland. Type: Semi-firm. Rawness: Raw! Again, I’ll let lay the groundwork:

Vacherin Fribourgeois is a hearty and potent Swiss cow’s milk cheese with a semi-soft to firm texture, depending on age. Selected by master affineur Rolf Beeler, Vacherin Frigourgeois is an “old fashioned” Vacherin with an uneven, craggly rind and harsh edges. Its taste is grassy, nutty, and with the perfume of fresh-cut hay. The flavors increase when melted, and, as such, Vacherin Fribourgeois makes an excellent fondue cheese. Pair this cheese with Pinot Noir.

New life goal: become a master affineur. Second new life goal, find out what an affineur is. Anyway, sure enough these two did make a lovely fondue, with a perfect consistency, though it probably won’t supplant the Gruyere-Emmentaler standard. We made sure to do a little lasting before they got thrown into the melt. I have a pretty crappy palate, so my mental tasting notes go something along the lines of “The Vacherin is a pretty good cheese, while the Piave is a really good cheese.” But if I had to play the game, I’d say that the most memorable thing was that the Vacherin really did smell awfully barny. Didn’t taste barny at all, but there you have it.

Ready for dippin’.

And primed for scrapin’. This is the incredible treat at the end of fondue–a quarter-inch thick shellac of crispy cheese cracklins. Bliss.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Shannon permalink
    December 16, 2009 3:45 am

    Ian – this fondue looks delicious!! I enjoyed reading about your cheese experience :).

  2. December 27, 2009 1:59 pm

    Piave is an all time favorite of mine….go find some robusto for a treat with crystallized salt within.

    Also, next time at wholefood, ask for a taste of the truffle cheese from Italy….OMG!

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