I really love cheese (notice the Parisian glow above our accumulated bounty!) It wasn't but a few days into our lune de miel in France that my betrothed asked earnestly, "Honey, is this about me, or cheese?"
I could give up sweets without much of a problem. I gave up carbs for a stint before my first wedding dress fitting, drink beer only a few given times a year, & wine--well that would be tough given my profession--but if I was forced to choose Camembert or Carignan, there's little doubt what would win.
A perfectly-ripened round of oozing Epoisse, the animal essence of rustic Brebis bought straight from the sheep herder's hands in Gascony, Herve Mons's Gabietou, a gorgeous Pyrenees cheese infused with the taste of mountian meadow flowers that's rubbed with brine from a local salt spring--the anticipation of enjoying a truly fine cheese is something that gets me downright giddy.
This brings me to thinking about the cheeses available to us in this country... A few of the major reasons I'm turning ironically away from my obsession with visiting DeLaurenti's on my lunch break to sample their wares ("What are we going to DO with you?" said my good friend Tamar at the register after my third or fourth visit one week around the holidays!) is the Euro.
Since I now buy all the queso y vino for Spanish Table, I am accutely aware of the affects of a drooping dollar on the international market. While the price of an imported wine prices can hold steady for a few vintages, the price of a cheese such as my holy grail afore-mentioned Gabietou went up $10 from one order to the next bringing the price up to $40 a pound. Mon dieu! Which probably means that our remaining precious wedge will be the last I purchase for awhile.
Por que? you may ask as I just did of my husband who works on the wine importing front... Well, for one, not many cheeses come in by the container as they are highly perishable, so they're much more susceptible to the global economy. Wines on the other hand, can be purchased in large amounts, securing the price--temporarily at least. Importers might take a cut in margin as can a winery, perhaps they choose a cheaper bottle, go Stevin (screw-cap) or choose synthetic corks to save you & them a few bucks. Distributors can buy Euros at more agreeable times that improve their purchasing power--all of these things & more can help stablize a fluctuating market.
So perhaps this is why cheese, I mean really GOOD cheese, has such an allure about it... Its flavors are terroir-driven like the best of all wines, but it's seasonal, allusive, & passionately small in terms of production. There are cheeses that I simply can't get for weeks or months because a herd of Catalunyan goats are out of milk, & they don't outsource.
If you're fortunate to make it up to Canada once in a while, you can score some really good deals on raw milk cheese at places such as les amis du fromage--a friend indeed!
Back to America. When I saw the first Saveur magazine issue dedicated to top artisanal American cheesemakers I nearly blew a gasket. Amazing RAW MILK (damn the FDA regulations on cheese & iberico!) cheeses available here in the States? And a quest began.
Fortunately we have some exceptional affineurs in Washington State, with at least one of that happens to hail from France. A trip to the local farmer's market can send you to the moon (& to the nearest ATM) after tasting so many fine cheeses, so when we make the rounds to scout out the best carrots or organically inhaleable strawberries, our produce drawer is apt to end up filled with an equal greens to cheese ratio.
The soft-rind cheeses from Pt. Townsend Creamery seem to getting better all the time, and while I find pre-lunch Sunday joy in sampling "Red Darla" & "Dominoes" which recently made their way into my market basket, I' adore Monteillet Fromagerie's marinated Provencal discs that are a summer bride with tender greens, as well as their Morbier-like ashened Larzac that made me look like I attended an Ash-Wednesday service after smearing it across my forehead while working in the kitchen.
But the piece de resistance of dishes inspired by our burgeoning home garden in Skyway was an exceptionally delicious Swiss Chard Tart with Goat Cheese, Currants & Pine Nuts from Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques cookbook which I searched high & low for in one of my earliest blogs, with good reason. One key to this dish is all-butter puff pastry, which is really hard to find as it turns out at most places in the south end. Seward Park PCC had filo only, a no go. Renton Thriftway put me on hold for so long I could have watched an entire episode of The Barefoot Contessa, so I hung up & took a chance on the new Greenfresh Market in Renton. Voila!
Not only did they have pastry, but the award-winning puff from Dufour's no less! Now, I'm not an accomplished baker so while it would have saved me $13 to make my own, I was armed with the tools to embark on my first tart inspired by a glorious harvest of bright lights chard thanks to Seattle Tilth heirloom starts & an over-abundance of cheese purchased at Monteillet stand at Pike Place Market's Farm Fridays. Pierre-Louis could well be mistaken for Thierry's cousin in his hat & whites--never under-estimate the charm of a French accent & a growling stomach on your lunch break...
So I promise to write up my "secret" recipe (& an Odegard update for you islanders) that inspired a good friend to get me a flat of chard starts because I said I would make this again only when I had enough chard to pluck straight from the garden. I may have to cheat & go buy some greens because my husband draped his arms around me tonight while typing with a shower of kisses at the mere mention of future tart-making. I feel like an American Express ad: