Sunday, May 18, 2014


Eastside Road, May 18, 2014—
COOK HAS DECIDED— it is one of the best eventualities of recent months — that cheese is a Good Thing, as Martha would say, and to be included in the diet as a matter of course. Cheese course, I suppose you could say.

Thursday we had guests to lunch, and Sam brought a fine big composed salad, filled with chopped vegetables and grains and sprouted Mung and who knows what else; and on the side we had Cheese. Beaufort, fine Sant Agur blue from the Auvergne, creamy Taleggio, fragrant Comté, and something new to me, Der Sharfe Maxx from Switzerland, "Intense and bold in both flavor and aroma with hints of sweet hay and onion and a bit of spiciness from being washed in an herb brine" as it's described at's cheese site, one of a vast number of online resources when it comes to cheeses.

The best way to come to terms with cheese is of course through the senses. Only hearing is left out of the mix, and I suppose if you're really attentive you can enjoy even the sound of sampling, for example, the graininess of a good mature Parmigiano-Reggiano. You can read about them, of course, and I recommend Janet Fletcher, whose column sadly no longer appears in the San Francisco Chronicle, though some of them are still to be found on its website.

Another way to approach cheeses is to travel. I met two of my very favorites in the mountains: Beaufort while walking in Savoie, among the enticing cows whose milk produces this magnificent cheese, and among the flowers whose fragrance informs it; and Castelmagno on the other side of the border, in the pastures above Cuneo — Castelmagno, which you look for in vain for the most part, unless you're in Rome or Cuneo or, on lucky occasions, at Oliver's Market in Cotati, of all places.

We're lucky with cheese retailers. My favorite is The Cheese Shop in Healdsburg, because it's local, and discriminating, and quirky, and one wants to support such endeavors. On a bigger scale we have the cheese counters at Big John's, again in Healdsburg; and at Oliver's Markets, in Cotati and Santa Rosa.

And of course when in Berkeley we drop in at the mother of them all, The Cheese Board Collective — even their website is an idiosyncratic delight, with marvelous drawings by, I suspect, Ann Arnold, a Berkeley artist whose work has been a constant pleasure to us for many years.

Well, I've been led off the track. I'm simply supposed to be recording our dining here. We haven't been fasting, in the true sense, this week; there've been too many guests. We've been making do, instead, on the nights we haven't eaten out, with cheese; bread and cheese. And wine. And fruit. And salad.

You can do much worse.

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