Cheesy musings, Profiles

Cheese Lovers’ Day: My all-time favourite cheeses

Happy Cheese Lovers’ Day, one and all! This is a glorious day for mongers to relish and crackers to fear.

Once people realize the depth of my love for cheese (usually to the tune of “Yeah, I have a cheese blog,” and “there are four different types of cheese in my single-tenant fridge at any given time”), they often ask me for a favourite. I take this as seriously as any food-lover being asked to eat just one thing for the rest of their life and specify a category before throwing out any names.

I’ve toyed with posting a cheese Wall of Fame (Wall of Fromage? Yep, sold) listing some such albeit-rotating favourites and Cheese Lovers’ Day seems like as good a time as any to start, especially since it coincides almost perfectly with my blog’s first-post birthday.

Embed from Getty Images

A quick note: These are by no means a reflection of the “best” cheeses I’ve ever had – I am not a cheese critic and appreciate it all as an endeavour. The following is a list of my personal favourites: one woman’s trash is another’s treasure and all that. I cribbed the types from my cheese bible, The World Cheese Bookand made my best attempt at categorizing these beloved wheels, but please feel free to argue with me.

Cheese the Day’s Wall of Fromage, 2015:

Fresh cheese: Bella Casara Burrata
My caprese salad used to mate with Italian mozzarella out of necessity. Now we have a home-grown option, and it is the definition of melt-in-your-mouth. While I melt (ha) for any fresh mozzarella, this one holds a special place in my heart. Dare you not to eat the entire thing once you’ve cut in even a little (not least because part of the joy of burrata is its fleeting consistency).

Aged fresh cheese: Le Cendrillon by Alexis de Portneuf
This is an area that I need to experience more. I haven’t had many aged fresh cheeses, but tasting Le Cendrillon is like acing a triactor on your first trip to the track: you don’t have to know the competition to know the payout is good. I snagged only a little bite of this last year and still fell in love.

Soft white cheese: Saint Angel
This is a brand-spanking-new addition to my favourites. I tried this after finding it on sale (!) at St. Lawrence Market recently and licked the paper it was wrapped in. Multiple times. It’s like as densely creamy as a butter castle and as light as a cloud. Five points to Gryffindor if you can eat it without once closing your eyes.

Semi-soft cheese: Highland Chief with Single Malt Whiskey
This is a tough category because it varies so widely; I’ll admit that my favourite often changes depending on which good semi-soft I’ve had most recently. In this case, it’s a seasonal cheese that has the salty bitterness of old cheddar but an unbelievably creamy texture with an elasticity that could slap you out of the daze you no doubt fell into upon tasting the sweet, smoky whiskey tang.

Hard cheese: Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar
This cheese will always make me think I’m having a picnic in a field of sweetgrass, where you can also catch a hint of recent-rain smell on the breeze. It’s that earthy, sweet and pleasure-inducing.

Blue cheese: Blue Haze
It’s hard not to become devoted to Blue Haze like groupies or a cult following, but it’s just that powerful. It’s not often you come by a smoked blue, and it becomes even more intoxicating when coupled with honey.

Flavour-added cheese: Sartori Bellavitano Balsamic
I can’t imagine this one ever being overtaken, since it’s the first cheese with which I remember becoming absolutely obsessed, and may have sparked my curiosity in trying new cheeses. It’s always, always good, and one of the few cheeses I devour with no accompaniment.

What’s your favourite cheese(s)? Please share your Wall of Fromage with me on Twitter, via e-mail or in the comments!

Cheesy musings

Sick productivity: The underrated power of feeling crappy

I thought it last night and I’m thinking it now: could it be possible that I’m more productive with nagging tasks when I’m sick? I’ve had a hard time sitting down to write this week, no more than any other work-week, except that I caught some cold-flu bug like 90 per cent of shoppers, lining up for NyQuil while refusing to lower their hoods indoors.

And yet, here I sit, forcing myself to get something down for consistency’s sake while I wait on elements for a few other posts (but spoiler: I’m supernova-excited about tips from a high-profile chef that created one of the best cheese-centric meals I’ve had in dog year). Maybe I’ve subconsciously absorbed the chiding meant for my youngest brother across the table, who’s oozing an entire afternoon away over homework (yes, I babied my way to my parents’ house to ride out my virus). Maybe I’m Barney-Stintson delusional.

But that wouldn’t explain last night. I was hoping to leave work a little early as my symptoms had recovered from their Tyenol-high long enough to host another rager. But I stayed to the end to send off trickier e-mails that could’ve waited until Monday. I re-imagined leftovers instead of takeout. I asked my building’s management about that spare key that still needs to be made. It hit me when I crossed my threshold after taking out a festering garbage bag: Am I more productive when I’m sick?

Make no mistake, I spent the entire evening watching re-runs of Gilmore Girls, so in terms of activity, ah-hell no. But each time I avoided doing a task that had been lingering all week because I was sick, I figured, well, think about how much better you’ll feel Monday when you’re recovered (fingers crossed!) and you don’t have mountains of stuff to catch up on. You feel like sh-t anyway, might as well make the most of it.

The shine of productivity is blaring when you’re feeling inspired, energetic, even just content. But what about when you’re not feeling so hot, whether it’s out of sickness, boredom or everyday malaise? One of the best things I learned in J-skool and in my experience after is that it’s rare for inspiration, endurance, convenience and deadlines to line up in tandem. So, no stranger to forcing myself to write. But I’ve found it becomes a little easier to accomplish whatever’s nagging at me when I don’t feel like doing much else, anyway: see the night I finally started writing cheese profiles.

Thanks, flu, for a post that’s imperfect, devoid of cheese porn, but complete.

Is this bummer-productivity true for you? Do you wait until you’re at full throttle to get to lingering list items? I want to know whether I’m making this up or if it might actually be real: tweet, e-mail or comment!

Cheesy musings

You eat with your eyes: My problem with plating cheese

When I worked as a homepage editor, it was my job to lure readers into clicking with lists, puppies and babies, Kim Kardashian (pageviews don’t lie; if you hate her, why are you so interested in her marriage(s)?), and most of all, vagueness (“You won’t believe…” “Wait until you see…” “This ___ is shocking”). Another vital hook were the pictures.

I distinctly remember a morning two years ago when I arrived for the early shift and posted a recipe for baked Brie to the homepage. I watched the video three times “to find the perfect screenshot” – read: to fantasize about baked Brie – and thought a fresh-outta-the-oven, gorgeously-melty shot was just the ticket.

About an hour later, when one of my bosses arrived, he asked me to change the picture. “It just doesn’t look very appetizing,” he said.

Are these people high? I thought to myself (they weren’t – maybe that would’ve helped). This looks incredible.

Baked brie

I actually dug up the original video to take a screenshot similar to the one I had – credit:

It actually didn’t. None of the screenshots did the recipe justice, so I ended up using a stock photo. But I had watched the video three times – my brain was clearly already on board the baked-Brie wagon (which is supported by pecan-spoked wheels and fuelled by honey, by the way). Hell, my brain pretty much drove the baked-Brie wagon.

I think of that story often, as it crystallizes a problem I run into a lot: making scrumptious food look scrumptious. I don’t have a fancy camera and refuse to wait for daylight to take photos. I often gravitate to hard or semi-soft cheeses, which generally come in and are served as bricks. What’s sexy about that? So this is especially an issue for me on this blog. I once carved smoked gouda into little hearts because I didn’t know how else to quickly-but-appealingly capture it in my drab, poorly-lit kitchen.

So I try to get crafty (as one should). I feel weird about building a plate that is not the one I’m eating – I’m just now realizing that’s because I usually snap the picture as soon as I unwrap the cheese, otherwise I often miss it altogether after an inadvertent devouring – though I should, and garnish it with pretty fruit, nuts, herbs, etc., instead of what I actually eat it with, which is usually a spoon and whatever jam or confit looks most tempting.

Exhibit A: as I write, I’m dragging crackers through cranberry and pepper Boursin (not even spreading it, because all my knives are dirty – I’m a monster) while waiting for my dinner in the oven. The prettiest thing about it is my grandmother’s plate:

Boursin on pretty plate

Back to the Brie story. The importance of presentation is no newly-discovered secret. I’m just as guilty of judging a no-frills plate. I should have You eat with your eyes first embroidered on a pillow as a constant reminder. But it’s become more than just about eating what’s in front of you: now, as the Financial Post recently pointed out, it’s about wanting to eat what’s on your screen.

The Post dug into how restaurants are approaching food presentation with social media on the brain and encouraging patrons to Instagram their #foodporn (although if I see someone stand on a chair to get that ever-popular aerial shot, my eyes won’t be able to roll back far enough). It makes sense for restaurants to embrace the trend; who wouldn’t want free, public praise?

Still, I’m reminded of that sad little baked Brie, how delectable it is, and how few people likely clicked on the story or tried the recipe as a result of my ugly photo. I want to make more of an effort to style my cheese shots (suggestions more than welcome). But the next time I see a crappy food photo, I’ll assign it a tempting headline in my head: You won’t believe how delicious this tastes.