Last night while browsing the market for dinner ideas I came a across a woman offering samples of a thrilling cheese. They were thimble size, handmade artisanal cheeses made on a farm in Westport, Massachusetts by the Santos Brothers who are apparently shy and so they call their company The Shy Brothers Farm (see link below). Well, I have something to say to those brothers,
“If I made this cheese I certainly wouldn’t be shy. I’d be gregariously shouting and bragging from roof tops because quite frankly anyone who makes cheese as lovely as you shy brother do, you’re all officially granted unlimited bragging rights.”
I confess I haven’t had cheese like this for a very long time perhaps it was when I was in Europe last. The sample I tasted was called “French Cream” and according to their web site there is also; Rosemary, Lavender Bud and Shallot (along with other cheeses I am dying to try!) Naturally, after my sample, I wanted more to simultaneously devour and savor, so I bought three small containers full of 20 thimbles, “The French call them “boutons de coulottes”, or “trouser buttons.” The brothers call them Hannahbells, after their mom!” They were impeccably packed in five inch containers made of thin wood and packed in special plastic and paper to keep the cheese alive. Each container was $1.23. This was clearly a promotion for Shy Brothers and a dream come true for me.
The French Cream was phenomenal. At first bite it was buttery, then slightly sharp, tangy and then nutty, finally a minor note of pungency possessed my mouth. This flavorsome cheese sang to my taste buds proving to me this tiny thimble of cheese was dynamic and alive with powerful flavors evoking memories of cheeses of my yesteryears.
1970. I am eight years old and in my Mother’s kitchen. The macaroni and tomato sauce is cooking and filling our house with that savory magical scent that only tomatoes, garlic and basil can do. At my insistence my mom is pulling the bottom drawer out of a row of drawers below our kitchen counter top. She is now placing phonebooks inside for me to stand on because I want to reach the counter where a block of Parmesan cheese, a shiny tin grater and a dish wait for me. I want to be a grown-up cook like my Mom and work at the counter. (When I eat I put the same phone books on my chair to reach the table like my older brother and sisters).
There I am almost every Wednesday and Sunday sliding the cheese back and forth over the grater producing soft and dusty, snowy white mounds of parmesan and taking breaks and clenching little bundles between my fingers and plopping the sharp, nutty cheese into my mouth. My Mother is busily stirring the boiling pot of macaroni and the simmering tomato sauce that inside has stewed meats. She calls out to me firmly, “That’s enough, Johnny” My Mother, always economical knows exactly how much cheese she wants to serve and even at my young age I have my own chef-like inclinations. I know how much we need and it never agrees with my mother’s estimation. I ignore My Mother and continue to grate. I am hardly an obedient child especially when it came to food. My Mother doesn’t scare me, but she always wins the battles, she takes the cheese out of my hand and orders me to call my siblings and father to dinner. I hurriedly go to the front hallway and yell up the stairs, “DAD!!!! EVERYONE DINNER IS READY!!!!”
I run to my spot at the table, my mother reminding me that I didn’t need to shout so loudly. I take my place next to my father. There I sat waiting for my bowl of macaroni. When everyone is served, my mother gives the dish of grated cheese to my Dad and from there he passes it. I watch attentively as everyone coats their macaroni with the cheese while my mother reminds each one of my siblings not take too much and to think of each other. I feel pleased, a contributor to the feast and in my eyes the cheese is the most important part of this meal, this glorious, sacred cheese that is a must on my scrumptious macaroni! I delve in and cover my macaroni with the snowy Parmesan. I am now eating and do not notice anything around me. I am a bowl of macaroni. There isn’t much that can distract me or take me away from my meal.
Everyone has left the table. I am still eating. My mother is doing the dishes. A few minutes prior my sisters adamantly tell my mother they will not clear my spot because I have made a huge mess “he’s gross” (they do this every night). My space at the table and body are covered in tomato sauce and macaroni. I have food on my lap, in my hair, down my shirt.
“What’s for dinner tomorrow night?” I ask my Mom. She stops scrubbing a pan for a split second and looks over at me, her eyes shift in a funny way. She goes back to her pot and I go back to my pasta.
Its fall 1978. I am 15. My parents are going out for the evening. Amy and I are having Debbie over our house to watch TV. I have decided that tonight I am making fondue. Amy asks me, “What’s that?” Her cheeks pink and pudgy, I show her the feature in the local paper, the heading says, Fondue Craze. “It’s a food they eat in Switzerland!” I explain to Amy. I read the recipe. I need white wine. Dad has some in the refrigerator. I need Swiss cheese and French bread. Mom doesn’t keep those things in the house, “We’re going to the store.” I announce to Amy.
I sit behind Amy as she peddles her blue sting-ray out of the driveway. Her bike has a dazzling glitter infused banana seat. We head down Franklin Street. The street gutters are full of golden and red leaves and their dry earthy smell possess us. The sun is setting and pinkish-gray hues fill the sky. The air is sharp and chilled. Amy is the strongest girl I know. Her long brown hair blows in my face and tickles me and I laugh hysterically as she peddles wildly, “Go faster!” I shout, “faster, Amy!” I hold my hands up and touch the branches of the trees that line the street and down the big hill we go. Weeeee! The Stop & Save is practically empty on this Saturday night. I buy what I need, Swiss cheese and French bread. Amy and I walk the bike home, “Ma and Dad don’t like us to cook when they’re not home.” Amy says. I reply, “So?”
At home I cut a garlic clove and rub it throughout the inside of the pan. I add a cup of white wine. I add a few cups of shredded Swiss and melt it all down whisking it until smooth. Amy cuts the bread, “Like this, Johnny?” She asks. “Yes” I say boldly as if I made Fondue every night. I don’t know why and where the confidence of cooking and intuitive knowledge of food comes from. Perhaps it’s my obsession with watching Julia Child on TV. Where ever it comes from I know it feels right and good and my purpose in life. Debbie arrives and we sit at the table and stab crunchy chunks of bread with huge dinner forks and dip them into the creamy warm, tangy fondue. The cheesy sauce drips and runs and we twist our forks to stop it, we eat with delight and chins masked. It is alluring and exciting to eat something different, it tells me the world is bigger than the place I live and I listen carefully and with each bite the anticipation of exploring the world is alive within me.
It’s 1982 and Jean and I, with back-packs in tow, enter the town of Calis, France. We have traveled from London with a young English girl named Catherine who will spend a year in Calis teaching English. She has been to Calis before and so she helps us find a Pension (two days later we are asked to leave by the proprietor because we foolishly washed our clothes in the sink and hung them all over the room and water stained the furniture) Later we explore this charming town.
I am in awe of one of Rodin’s most famous sculptures The Burghers of Calais. Of all the wondrous things I see in Europe, the image of this sculpture makes a lasting impression in my mind for the rest of my life, it is striking and powerful and alive with story.
Catherine suggests lunch, she knows a cheese shop. Off we walk and within minutes we’re standing in one of the most spectacular cheese shops I have ever been in. Like Rodin’s magnificent sculptures of six men, the image of this shop is vivid and clear and it will be for the rest of my life. A wrap-around counter full of every kind of cheese imaginable; Bleu D’Auvergne, Fromager d’Affinois, Le Chevrot, Delice de Bourgogne, soft cow’s milk stinky cheese, cow’s milk semi soft cheese, sharp cow’s milk cheese, soft and washed rind, goat’s milk soft cheese pressed semi-hard cheese, aged 12 month pasteurized goat’s milk and so much, much more! The aroma is thick and commanding. The atmosphere is passionate with people tasting cheeses and speaking quite seriously of flavors, its paste, its rind and age. This is no Hickey Farms this is serious damn business!
And there it is waiting for me, looking up at me longing for me to buy. A long loaf of farm made cream cheese covered broadly with a mixture of bright and dark green herbs and cracked pepper. On closer inspection I see that the cream cheese is rolled into a pinwheel and there is a dainty layer of herbs inside this stunning log of creamy herby work of art! It was my first Boursin Cheese. (Boursin was first developed in the early 1960’s by Francois Boursin in Normandy) I ordered a slab of Boursin and a hunk of Brie (my first Brie too!). Next we bought crunchy French Bread and Italian Orange Soda. I know, be quiet, who doesn’t like Italian Orange Soda while in France.
We sat on a bench and ate, no we devoured the Boursin and Brie, enjoying every single creamy musky bite of the Brie and every garlicky, herby bite of the Boursin that can be made easily at home. This was a perfect day.
I use to make Boursin in the 1980’s when I worked for the Magic Pan Restaurants in Braintree Plaza and Boston. When making Boursin try to use fresh herbs, but dry is just fine. After making your Boursin make sure you let it sit for a while so that the herbs get aquatinted with one another, after all you wouldn’t want to be thrown into a crowded room and expect to be instantaneously loved, it takes time to mingle, time for flavors to express themselves.
Here’s how to make Boursin: First, forget about making it look like the one I saw in the shop in France, it would take forever. 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 cup butter, 2 cups cream cheese, a few tablespoons grated parmesan cheese (Please, the real stuff, and freshly-grated,) 1 tablespoon dill, ½ teaspoon dried marjoram ½ teaspoon basil ½ teaspoon chives ½ teaspoon black pepper ¼ teaspoon thyme crumbled 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley. When done pack it in an attractive pot and serve with plenty of crackers and French bread. A scoop of Boursin is great on a grilled burger or steak or on scrambled eggs.
I have so much more to say about cheese and I’ll have to a save it for another 30 blogs. I will end with this; I adore Eggs with Cheese and will leave you with my last cheese recipe.
Cape Cod- Orleans 2001. I invent my infamous French bread crouton, Kale, Brie, Mushroom Omelet or Frittata. You decide what you want to call it. You can eliminate the croutons if you wish and use small squares of Polenta. Or add Potatoes and officially call it a Frittata.
Cut French bread into cubes and brown inside a skillet with melted butter and removed them from pan when done and place on plate. Next sauté mushrooms with a minced shallot, add chopped Kale and season with salt and pepper. Take this off the heat when done.
Now gab your non-stick pan, place some butter inside and warm it slowly. Now beat 6 eggs. Pretty please use organic eggs. I adore them! Their yolks are bright orange and there is most definitely a difference in taste. They are rich and buttery and taste how an egg should taste and if anyone tells you differently tell them to talk to me. Organic or fresh local eggs from a small egg farm are beyond blissful. Period. Crack your eggs in a bowl and beat them lightly. Do not add milk or water! I despise this practice! I don’t care if Georges Auguste Escoffier (you’re a foodie now so Google his name) added milk or water to his eggs, don’t do it! Water and milk make eggs taste weak and they become loose and water logged and the color of a sick child. Ugh. As you can see I dislike this practice immensely. I only like it when making Quiche and in that case I use cream. Now heat your pan with the melted butter and work briskly. Add the beaten eggs to a hot skillet worked it around the pan by moving it clock wise for less than 30 seconds, add the browned croutons, kale and mushrooms and coat them with the eggs. Use a rubber spectacular to loosen the eggs around the edges. Doesn’t it smell good? When the eggs are still a bit wet, place many, many slices of Brie on top. Place your work of genius in the oven until the Brie melts and the eggs are set. When done slide it on a plate and cut in fours and serve. The melted Brie imbeds its self all over this egg masterpiece and totally takes over. Its perfection.
You’re welcome in advance.