Melt, Stretch & Sizzle, the Art of Cooking Cheese by Tia Keenan, Rizzoli 2018, hardback $35.00, 192 pages
Cheese, milk’s leap toward immortality.
For anyone whose ever had a fondue seize or a just “meh” grilled cheese, this is the book.
Tia Keenan is a cheese expert, author of The Art of the Cheese Plate in which she combined flavors with a wild and free hand with elegant cheeses–sharp, sexy, adult bites like pistachio pesto, pickled cherries, butter poached mushrooms, and lemon-chamomile fudge–daring combinations worthy of expensive, artisan cheeses.
In these recipes for heat applied to cheese, she recommends reasonably priced cheeses that supply what she’s after “…the lust, adoration, excitement, and pleasure that melt inspires.” She declares that it’s insane to use “$30-per-pound cheese made on a small farm from a rare breed of cows” in a baked pasta. She suggests: actual cheese, with some kind of flavor development (I’m not looking at you, Kraft), that is easy to find and afford.
But before the gooey indulgence, a small science lesson. Heat and coagulant–an acid or rennet–form the cheese curds from milk in strong or weak bonds of protein, water, and fat. As a rule, high-moisture cheese with a weak protein bonds will melt well. An acid-set cheese, like ricotta made at home with lemon juice, won’t melt well–though it has other lovely qualities.
From there, it’s a matter of finding the flavor and textures that work best–tangy and bright for a Georgian Khachipuri or mild and earthy for a Truffle Fonduta. And with great style and attitude, Keenan goes on from there, starting with your “basic bitch” Mornay sauce.
But not all heated cheese dishes should melt. Sizzler recipes include Haloumi Flambe with Preserved Lemon & Basil or Paneer in Minted Pea Sauce–two recipes that show Keenan hasn’t lost her touch for surprising flavors–nothing cliche here. Keenan fries and bakes, dishes up sandwiches and soups, blends cheese with potatoes or pasta. She offers show-stopping presentations like Gougers and souffles, and an international array of raclettes–from classic Alpine to American, French or Italian, with the cheese and accompaniments that suit.
There is something retro about these recipes–you can do gluten-free, but what goes better with cheese than a hunk of bread. Yes, we should eat more greens and grains, but who can resist a Baltic lamb and beef burger flavored with paprika and garlic. And besides, there are always pickles–cornichon and olives with a French raclette or roasted tomatoes with a Fried Burrata.
All of this indulgence is styled and photographed for a lush, somewhat naughty look. It will make you think of those old Crown Royal or Dewar’s ads where the grown-up thing to do is lounge around and leer at each other. Hef would totally get it. Font style, graphic choices, and color will have you flipping through the book, laughing, and then cooking.