Monday, April 5, 2010

Bread and cheese

In wartime Britain, there wasn't much choice of cheese. There was a somewhat bland variety, allegedly "cheddar", but usually described by those I knew as "mousetrap" cheese.

To digress for a moment from time to time some mice have crept into our Colorado home. Our wonderful handyman (Roger Opfer) has stopped up most of the crevices and other "ports of entry", thus preventing more mice invasions. However, we did need to use some traps, which he baited with peanut butter, which works very well.

I have no objection to peanut butter, but it is not part of my regular diet. One day, Barbara found a jar of peanut butter in the refrigerator, and wondered why it was there. I explained that Roger had put it there to preserve it for the next invasion.

Soon after the end of the war, we were able to obtain Camembert and Danish Blue, and then there was Brie, very much a favorite in Northern California these days.

In the 50s, one of my friends was a Cheese Factor in Cheshire. He would travel to farms in the area where cheese was made, and purchase it for later retail sale. Cheshire makes its own blue cheese, which is very similar to a cheese I buy these days from the Cheeseboard, Shropshire Blue.

The Cheeseboard is a Berkeley institution. It's just about a mile down the road from our house, in what was once known as Berkeley's "Gourmet Ghetto", before Cocolat was brought down by an employee's embezzlement, and the Pig-by-the-Tail charcuterie went out of business. One can sample a variety of cheeses at the counter before buying anything. Instead of awaiting the calling of one's number, you take a playing card, and these are called out in order. If you are lucky enough to draw the "Joker" you are attended to immediately. Another advantage is that there is a discount for older folk, which increases as one ages. Barbara and I cheerfully accept a 20% discount these days. (If we make it to 100, "what you see is what you get"). Barbara doesn't look her age, so she usually carries her driver's license, but she has an honest face, and I think that the employees trust her when she explains that she is over 80 now.

The Cheeseboard also sells olives, sometimes free-range eggs, and a variety of bread products. Barbara and I really love their English muffins, but my favorite product is their fresh baguettes, often still warm when they are sold. I eat a slice of baguette almost every day of the year, usually with some cheese and a small slice of Black Forrest ham.

Perhaps the Cheeseboard's best known product is its vegetarian pizza. Always delicious! From Tuesday until Saturday, quantities of these pizzas are sold, including many ready-baked, sold whole, half, or a quarter. The Cheeseboard recently expanded, with a separate entrance, where they sell warm pizza. The new premises have tables and chairs to sit at, and offer beer and soft drinks to accompany the food, and (on Saturdays) live music. However, we usually buy our pizza half-baked, and pop it into an oven at 425 degrees F for 8 minutes.

On many visits to the UK, I have chosen a "Ploughman's Lunch". Involving a thick slice of bread and a chunk of good cheddar, usually served with olives or other condiments. In many British pubs, one can order a "Stilton Ploughman's" for a slightly higher price.

This brings me to tell you the names of some of my other favorite cheeses. I love Gruyere. This comes in two varieties at the Cheeseboard. There is the "Reserve", and "Cave-aged", slightly more expensive. When I am shopping at the Cheeseboard, I usually ask the server to give me a "blind" taste of each of these, and up to now I have always been able to determine which is the cave-aged, my favorite.

I am fond of "stinky" cheese, even Limburger. Actually, I don't think I have ever met a cheese I didn't like. Of the many excellent English cheeses, I also enjoy Cotswold with chives, Double Gloucester, and several others.

Of the many other excellent French cheeses, I particularly appreciate Bleu d' Auvergne. I buy strong German cheeses and several Italian cheeses, including Gorgonzola, Parmesan, and Romano. That's enough: I am beginning to get hungry!

I really prefer a cold lunch, whereas I like hot food at dinnertime. Recently, Barbara and I visited a delightful restaurant at Larkspur Landing, which features an impressive array of South-East Asian food. Barbara and I weren't very hungry that evening, but with my glass of red wine I needed something to eat. You guessed it: I chose a small slice of baguette, the last morsel of Camembert, and a deliciously creamy Montagnola.

Yes, I am a creature of habit when it comes to bread and cheese.

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