Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Stinky Cheese

I love almost all cheese (not Swiss or Port Salut). I also love a bargain, so I am drawn like a moth to a flame to Harry's Cheese Shop at the Haymarket, where you can pick up chunks of imported and domestic varieties for as little as two for $5. He also sells more expensive cheese, but I've yet to be tempted.

I'm especially a sucker for any cheese that comes in a cute wooden box. These tend to be small French cheeses with rinds and soft interiors, although I made a mistake a couple of months ago and brought home what I thought was going to be a good Camembert — but it turned out to be a U.S. product.

It's great to buy American-made shoes and clothing, as well as many other kinds of American cheese. I love sliced white American deli cheese passionately, not being a cheese snob. To me, it's butter in solid form, easy to eat while keeping your fingers clean. But an American "Camembert" is another thing entirely, trust me. We each tried one bite and then it went right out. I've had my ups and downs with Harry's cheeses, but I enjoy the roulette aspect of the transaction. I've snagged some divine cheeses that were a fraction of their price in other shops.

Nowadays. I check to make sure that the darling little "French" cheese in the wooden box is a French product. On Saturday, we brought home this, for $4:

It's Petit Pont l'Evêque, a soft cheese with a rind from Normandy. "It's like Camembert," Harry told us. He has said that before, about every single cheese that comes in a little box. I took the gamble. And I checked the expiration date, which was close. It should be nice and ripe, I thought. We put it in the bag with a nice slab of Dubliner ($2.50).

As we made our way through Haymarket, we noticed a strange odor each time we added something to our shopping bag. It was the cheese. Wow. The correct word is "pungent," according to the description of the cheese in Wikipedia. The more accurate word is "Stinky."  We wrapped it up as well as we could in a second plastic bag, which helped. I did not notice people taking pains to avoid us as we walked home. As soon as we got there, I wrapped the box in foil and a fresh plastic bag before putting it in the fridge.

Unwrapped, later, it looked promising:

This is allergy season, after all. Half the time, I can't smell anything, or I think I'm smelling one thing, when in fact, it's something else entirely. For example, dead lilacs and stinky Petit Pont l'Evêque smell a lot alike. I guess.

We were having soup for dinner, with Iggy's bread and cheese. I put the cheese on the table, relieved that my husband hadn't run screaming from the apartment from the smell.

Now I need to backtrack. In my household, certain cats have always formed an alliance called "The Cheese Patrol." Snalbert is the official head of The Cheese Patrol. When dear Bunnelina arrived, she instantly recruited herself as his deputy. Whenever cheese is removed from the fridge, the Cheese Patrol arrives on the spot and demands samples.

Snalbert prefers American cheese and cheddar. Bunny, in her day, enjoyed everything from Stilton and Armenian string cheese to strong Gorgonzola and fresh mozzarella. She never met a cheese she didn't love. After she died, I had hopes that at least one of the kittens would round out the Cheese Patrol and relieve Snalbert of some of his responsibilities in his golden years. Wendy is trying, but she still can't recognize cheese as food; it doesn't have the right scent for her. She watches avidly as Snalbert takes cheese from my hand, but she only sniffs it and walks away, disappointed. Possum can't even handle cheese. He has trouble getting it into his mouth and keeping it there. It keeps falling it out. This may be why he likes to eat canned food and sometimes even kibble with his paws. (Possum doesn't need extra calories anyway.)

The sole, surviving member of the Cheese Patrol arrived on the table shortly after the cheese:

Snalbert takes his cheese duties seriously.

He saw. He sniffed:

He investigates carefully.

His educated assessment:

Oh, dear. And I knew what he meant after I sliced the thing open.

After Snalbert swiftly departed, Wendy arrived, registered her disapproval, and took off, aghast.

Wendy thinks Petit Pont l'Evêque is an outrage.

That left us to eat the cheese ourselves. I cut small triangular wedges for each of us, as you are supposed to do when confronted with a square or round cheese with a rind. There's an intricate cheese-slicing etiquette in France, you know, where cheese is often served towards the end of a meal or in place of a sugary dessert. You can study the basics here so, if you ever find yourself among the French at a dinner party, you won't reinforce their impression that we Americans are all ill-mannered slobs, slicing the tip off the wedge of Brie as if we'd been raised in caves like cheeses ourselves.

We spread the Petit Pont l'Evêque on our fresh Iggy's Francese bread, and we took a bite. We surveyed the cheese, figured out, individually, that we could carefully remove it from the bread without too much damage, and did so. We contented ourselves with some aged Gouda we had lying around. The French cheese was wrapped back up and put into the freezer for trash time. The Cheese Patrol had been correct.

But I won't resist trying more cute little cheeses in boxes from the Haymarket.


  1. Officials from the Cheese Patrol have requested that some of the APB readers do a haymarket intervention and introduce you to a better class of cheesemongers.

    Have you met Bacco's wine & cheese on St James?

  2. Yes, expensive! And no risks whatsoever! But I had a delicious little $3 piece of Comté from South End Formaggio for lunch (don't tell the Cheese Patrol, they were napping on the job).

  3. That first picture of Snalbert, with the gigantic platter eyes, is priceless.


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