A cheese may disappoint. It may be dull, it may be naive, it may be over-sophisticated. Yet it remains cheese, milk’s leap toward immortality.
Every cheese book I’ve ever seen drives me crazy–describing cheeses that I can never get my hands on–while I drool with frustration.
But in this book, Tia Keenan engages with the cheese by offering recipes for elegant accompaniments that will spark your palate and ennoble even a supermarket slab of cheddar.
Though Keenan encourages us all to buy good cheese–the work of artisan cheesemakers, from the farm’s milk, who are creating something unique. To help you get started in smart buying, she describes the characteristics of fresh, surface-ripened, pasta filata (that milky mozzarella we all love), hard, and blue cheeses.
And she describes “foundational flavors”–milky, tangy, floral, herbal, earthy, toasty, funky, and umami. So, though I’m unlikely to find a Selles-sur-Cher within a reasonable distance of my kitchen I could certainly find something comparable and then serve with Keenan’s wildly creative recipes like Green Peppercorn Meringue, Pistachio Pesto, Deviled Lemon Curd, or Quick-Pickled Cherries.
So even if you can’t find her cheeses, settling for reasonable facsimiles or even faint imitations isn’t much of a hardship when you can serve them with Butternut Squash and Golden Raisin Chutney, Pickled Blueberries with Ginger and Star Anise (which are terrific in a salad), Lemon-Chamomile Fudge, or Pan-Roasted Plums with Scotch and Lime.
Because the book is about the plate, including how to serve and with what drinks, you can enjoy the whole, instead of fretting about not having the perfect cheese. And if you read Keenan’s evocative descriptions, and pay attention to her layering of flavors, you’ll achieve your own delicious cheese plates.
I found myself attaching a post-it note to page after page, making notes like “try this with peaches and rum” and “think about butter poaching.” I went out of my way to buy bran cereal so I could make earthy Bran Cereal Crackers and cheese or no, a spoonful from a jar of Zucchini Butter became my favorite summer pasta sauce. That’s the kind of book this is–inspirational, drool-inducing and do-able.
Keenan sets up mini-menus of compatible cheeses, drinks, and accompaniments, and if you pay attention, you’ll learn something about cheese, about flavor blending, and about designing a palate of flavors.
And if you cook randomly, following your greed, as I did, you’ll also be happy.