Tuesday, May 7, 2019

A Book on Which to Nibble + Cheese Board Basics #FoodieReads


On the Page
I have had this book - Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan* - for years. I know I started it, but somehow it ended up back on my bookshelf. And I just rediscovered it! So, I took it out to the patio on a sunny Friday evening and dug in.

If you aren't familiar, Jim Gaffigan is a comedian. His material is usually very self-deprecating and involves humorous observations about marriage, fatherhood, laziness, and food. Lots of food. He first hit my radar with his set on Hot Pockets.

I appreciate that his sets are relatively clean with little or no profanity; I don't have much of a sense of humor anyway, but I refuse to watch comedians who drop f-bombs in every sentence. It has always seemed to me that if you require those words for emphasis, you need a larger vocabulary.

In any case, I found myself chuckling aloud while reading Food: A Love Story. Gaffigan tackles everything from McDonald's to ethnic food. Title names include "The Cheeseburger: America's Sweetheart" and "Bacon: The Candy of Meat." 

One of my favorite sections in the book is when he shows a map of the United States and has divided it into different food sections, such as Coffeeland in the Northwest; Seabugland in the Northeast; Steakland in the Plains; Wineland in Northern California; Mexican Food land in the Southwest; Super Bowl Food land in the Midwest, etc.

I also appreciate how Gaffigan characterizes himself. "I have strong opinions about food, but I am not a food expert or a 'foodie.' ...What I have is a general and very personal knowledge of food. I know which food I enjoy. I know which food I hate. I know how food makes me feel. ...I think of myself as an 'eatie.' I don't have anything against foodies. I appreciate their love of food and I envy their knowledge and culinary escapades, but I'm generally satisfied with that I've been eating. Foodies seem to be on a never-ending search for new restaurants and interesting dishes. I don't have an insatiable desire to discover what makes something taste good or to find exotic combinations. I guess I'm not that bored" (pg. 6).

As for my post title, I found myself reading just a chapter or two at a sitting. I didn't want to plough right through; I wanted to nibble on the prose, giggle a little - or a lot -, and know that I had more to enjoy later.


On the Plate
In honor of the chapter "Say Cheese", I am sharing a decidedly 'foodie' cheese board and few of my favorite snippets from that part of Gaffigan's book.


"While I find milk generally unappealing, what we make from the cow's breast milk is truly amazing: cheese, ice cream, whipped cream, butter. Cow's breast milk is really rather resourceful. Cheese is probably the most all-purpose dairy product. Everyone loves cheese. ...To me cheese is fantastic, and I've always loved it. I remember when I was a little kid I was kind of surprised when I realized the word cheesy was a negative. My older sister Cathy was complaining to a friend over the phone, 'Yeah, that movie was kind of cheesy.' That didn't make sense to the young me. I wanted to ask, 'What kind of cheese?' Cheese and a movie sounded ideal to me. I wondered, Did they have crackers too?'" (pg. 203).

He proceeds to detail types of cheese. "Generally I like all types of cheese. Even the really stinky cheese that makes you almost gag before every delicious bite. On more than one occasion I've thought to myself, This smell makes me what to hurl, but I can't stop eating it" (pg. 204).

About Cheddar: "...the sharper the Cheddar, the better. I don't understand why 'mild' Cheddar even exists. It's like the nonalcoholic beer of Cheddar. What's the point?" (pg.204).

About Blue Cheese: "Blue cheese is an acquired taste. And I acquired it. ...Blue cheese is like the ice cream sundae of cheese. On a first-class flight they should fill the parfait cup with only blue cheese. No nuts on mine, please. My favorite blue cheese is Saint Agur's buttercream blue. I'm pretty sure Saint Agur was the Catholic saint of blue cheese" (pp. 204-5).

About Swiss cheese: "I keep waiting for people to realize that Swiss cheese tastes like a pencil eraser. Swiss cheese is like an old dirty sock. It smells, it has holes in it, and if it's hanging on a doorknob, it means 'Do not enter'" (pg. 205).

You get the idea. He even pens a letter to American cheese, which he despises. "...I don't understand American cheese. Maybe the idea was 'Let's make a cheese that resembles real cheese but has no taste. You know, for people who like to melt things and hate themselves'" (pg. 206).



I share Gaffigan's love of cheese. So, I made a cheese board for my belated birthday dinner with some of my favorites. Mostly stinky, but with some foodie flair. Comté, Cambozola, Pecorino with Pistachios, Pheasant Pâté, nuts, cheese, crackers, breadsticks, and Pickled Ramps.

Cheese boards are simple to put together but have a high wow factor. And they are undeniably one of the easiest appetizers you can assemble. You just need to offer a variety of colors, textures, and tastes. Here's are some simple steps to create a beautiful, delicious array.


Step 1: Choose the Cheeses
I like to pick a variety of cheeses based on texture —soft, semisoft, and hard. You can also go with a mixture of different milk sources—cow, goat, or sheep. Or pick cheeses based on a geographical location. A good rule of thumb is to select four or five cheeses and plan on 1 ounce of each cheese per person. I used three cheeses in this case. I've given you some ideas of the cheeses in each texture category...

Semisoft: Havarti, young Gouda, Fontina
Semihard: Gruyère, Manchego, aged Gouda, Comté (photographed in this post)
Hard: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, aged Manchego, Pecorino Romano (photographed in this post), Mimolette 
Soft-ripened: Brie, Cambozola (photographed in this post), Camembert
Blue: Stilton, Gorgonzola
Fresh: Ricotta, Chèvre, fromage blanc
Washed-Rind: Limburger, St. Nuage, Taleggio, Epoisses de Bourgogne

Once you've chosen your cheeses, place them on a board equidistant apart. Remember to take the cheese out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you plan to serve them. If they are too cold, the flavors will be muted.

Step 2: Pick Some Pairings
While cheese can stand alone, of course, you might need a vehicle for putting some of the softer cheeses into your mouth. Crisp crackers or slices of baguette work well.

Step 3: Fill the Holes
When you've placed your cheeses and lined up your crackers, fill in bigger holes on the board. This is where you can have some fun with more colors and more textures. I like fruit for sweetness—grapes, fresh figs, pomegranates, mangoes, and kiwi) — and olives or charcuterie for saltiness. Now fill in whatever space is left with extras such as nuts and seeds (try Marcona almonds, pistachios, spiced pecans, or salted cashews). I have even added some small chocolates to round out the board.

Step 4: Don't Forget Utensils
Last, but not least, make sure each part of your board has a serving utensil where needed. Place small spoons or spreaders next to bowls of jam or tapenade; offer toothpicks for picking up fruit and olives; don't neglect the cheese knives! And, to keep flavors separate, ensure that each cheese has its own knife.

I have an embarrassing number of cheese knives. I even have a traditional Stilton scoop that I swore I needed but still have never used. Here's a brief cheese knife guide, but use what you have. 
  • Hard, semihard, and semisoft cheeses can take a spade or a spear-tipped knife.
  • Semisoft, soft, and fresh cheeses need a spreader or a plane.
  • Crumbly cheese (such as blue cheese) and hard cheeses take a flat knife.
  • And a cheese fork can hold hard cheeses steady while slicing. 
That's it! Easy peasy, right? In four simple steps, you can have a colorful, flavorful cheese board that is worthy of a celebration...or just a regular evening.

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in May 2019: here.

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