Sunday, August 14, 2011

Every Cheese Has A Story


Cheese. Cheeeeese. Ah yes, cheese is the golden grail of this foodie's world. I confess to being a cheese fanatic. My idea of a perfect day is spent in New York City at the Union Square Farmer's market, where amongst all the glorious and gorgeous fruits and vegetables of the earth, are delectable cheeses from all corners of New England and beyond. There is even an Amish cheesemaker who travels into the wilds of New York to ply his wares, and it is delicious, delicious.
The mighty mecca of Murray's Cheese is nearby on Bleecker Street. Inside these hallowed halls Murray's has perfected the art of telling the cheese story. Each wedge sold at Murray's is affixed with a special label spilling the details of the cheese. I recommend going early in the day so you can ogle the cheese case and the board above, and take your time tasting, before the rest of the cheese lovers of the world intrude.
When Villa Gourmet opened it's doors in Milford, CT it was a glorious day for cheese champs like myself. The case is well stocked with both the unusual and the familiar and samples are given out with big smiles. It's wonderful to have such a delightful resource, run by a delightful owner.
When Caseus opened in New Haven, I put it on my list of must investigate. It took me months and months to get there, but finally on a long overdue girls day with my darling friend Liz, Caseus and I became one. Well actually it was a threesome, but I digress.
Caseus, for the uninitiated, is a fromagerie-bistro on Whitney Avenue in New Haven. As we approached the outdoor patio area and I saw the sign; Caseus-Every Cheese Has A Story, I knew I had come home.
According to the Latin dictionary caseus means cheese, a pressed curd and a comic form of endearment. By the end of my meal at Caseus I would be whispering sweet words of endearment to a ravaged cheese board with nothing left but a lone marcona almond and a tiny smear of sour cherry preserves.
Caseus has a lovely menu of salads, sandwiches, soups and larger plates that involve half chickens, steak frites and a luscious sounding burger, but I was riveted by the cheese board. “Selected by our mongers for a seasonality and peak ripeness accompanied by our best preserves, nuts and local breads”, so stated the menu and so we stated that “we will have that please.”
Now, Lizze is just as much a cheese conoisseur as I. We have shared many runny bries and triple crème tremors through the years and we know what we like about cheese. It's a flavor and texture thing for us and we were eagerly anticipating the surprise that would shortly be set before us.
Something else had caught our eye on the specials board...Caseus does a daily House Butter. What's this? Something else creamy, salty, spreadable and sensuous? Bring it on my good man, bring it on.
On this spectacularly sunny day, the house butter was a sweet and crunchy concoction prepared with honey and pistachios. I've made flavored butters, mixing finely chopped strawberries and a bit of powdered sugar, or blending butter with plenty of minced herbs. But never had I heard of honey pistachio butter. Liz wholehearterdly embraced this selection as well.
Suddenly a tall and tender faced young man appeared, bearing our bounty. The House Butter and Bread was placed between us and we both started to grin like foolish schoolgirls who had just spotted our favorite movie hearthrob. (An Edward Norton moment for Lizzie.) 4 beautiful rolls in a row awaited annointing with what appeared to be nearly a cup of beautiful butter!
And as he placed the plank of plenty between us, we restrained our squeals of delight at the sight of our cheese board. He began to speak, and we dreamily listened to the story of the cheeses, told with both reverence and fervor, until our appetites were completely aroused.
He told a tale of Rocchetta, an Italian beauty made from cow, goat and sheep's milk that would deliver a dense and smooth texture with an earthy and mushroomy flavor. Midnight Moon, a goat's milk Gouda from Holland, is aged for 6 months and has a firm, smooth texture with a nutty flavor with hints of floral and caramel. Number three, a Comte Marcel Petite, a cave aged cheese both herbaceous and fruity, with aromas of hazelnuts, fried onions and spring berries. And finally, St. Agur, a pasteurized cows milk blue from the Auvergne region of France. A rich, creamy texture with a slightly spicy flavor. We were regaled with details of the accompaniments as well, a small pile of salty Marcona almonds, crisp crackers and a half spoonful of sour cherry preserves.
Stimulated as we were by his sweet cheese words, it was the butter that received our full frontal attention first. Lizzie broke open a roll studded with dried cranberries, releasing a pleasing puff of steam. “Ooh, it's warm,” she said breathily. “Oh yes, yes, yes,” I exclaimed and liberally lathered up my half with butter. As the butter melted into the warm embrace of the bun, and I took my first bite, my mouth filled with the most fantastic flavor. The butter was a perfect balance of honey laced sweetness and nutty crunchiness. The bread was extraordinary, chewy yet crisp, the dried fruit adding yet another layer of loveliness.
Turning our focus to the cheeses, we nibbled away, reveling, then rating. We agreed that the Rocchetta was delightful, the triple play of milks was immensely appetizing and the texture just delightful on the tongue. Midnight Moon was quite pleasant and a compelling contrast to the Rocchetta. I did not find the Comte to be my favorite, a bit chalky, but still tasty. The St. Agur stood out as a cheese extraordinaire, all creamy and carnal, very much the attention grabber.
Good cheese should be eaten at a lesiurely pace, allowing time for the flavors to slowly melt in the mouth and we completely relaxed into this pursuit. In fact, by meal's end I felt rather tranquilized, with a full body buzz brought on by such high quality flavors.
Butter and cheese and a dear friend, please, these are the ingredients for a meal of sweet pleasure and a confession of complete contentment.

Caseus Fromagerie Bistro
93 Whitney Avenue
New Haven, CT 06510

Murray's Cheese
254 Bleecker Street
New York, NY

Villa Gourmet
11 River Street
Milford, CT

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