Cheese is a good, good thing. Like most "good, good" things, it's bad for you, most of the time. (As part of a balanced diet, it provides a pretty wicked calcium supplement, protein source, and can even aid your metabolism's processing speed.) Anything that averages between 22% and 77% milk fat tends to be a little on the glutonous side, so you need to be conscious of what you're doing. I've lost a lot of weight and I've done so without eliminating cheese completely from my diet. Instead of buying that fucking lame-ass "cheddar" they sell at your local supermarket, I buy mine from good retailers who sell better cheeses. I use strong, pungent cheeses that offer a lot of bang for the buck so that I can use less of it than I would a less spectacular cheese, thus keeping my fat intake at a reasonable level. It's the best way to go -- go hard, go strong, or go home.
My cheddar, for instance, is a New Zealand extra aged cheddar that has a sharp, bitter, rich, indulgent flavour that makes the average "sharp" cheddar -- particularly the American variety -- taste like solid boredom on a plate.
Having a good cheese retailer is a great thing to have, and every decent-sized town has one of those cheese retailers that sits head-and-shoulders above any other. Here in Vancouver, it's Les Amis Du Fromage. (If you have a slow browser or memory issues, don't click on the link. It's a very slow-loading page.) If you left your language dictionary at home, that's French for "The Friends of Cheeses." With friends like that, man, your fridge is always going to be a happy land. They stock anywhere from 350 to 500 cheeses at any time.
The thing about a bonafide cheese retailer that sets it apart from someone who simply sells cheeses is sheer knowledge and a willingness to educate you, the customer, with it. If you were to walk into Les Amis, for instance, and say "Well, I'm making a tenderloin with crispy saffron-roasted potatoes and baked asparagus, and I'm looking for a nice cheese to serve in a young mixed greens salad with a sweet oil dressing," they'd not only have several suggestions, but they'd get you samples of them all, and then suggest serving methods.
Any good specialty food retailer should be willing to educate you, provided you ask the right questions.
Personally, I love cooking, and anyone who's had the pleasure of dining in my home can attest to that. I like putting on a show, and I'm kind of excited that I get to do so for the New Boyfriend this weekend, particularly since he's a foodie, too. But while most people tend to get their food education just from television or books, I make a point of getting into conversations with retailers, and even with other customers. I've learned tricks like freezing homemade late-season pesto in ice cube trays for individual servings over the winter, and I've had incredible food experiences I may not have had otherwise.
Like love, like science, like art, food is a language that not everyone's lucky enough to understand. Remember that scene in Good Will Hunting, when Will says to his chick, "Well, when it came to math, I could always just play?" When it came to food, I've always been able to play. My earliest photos are of me in an apron and a chef's hat. I can remember a time when I was 10 and I went and spiked a roast beef with cloves, and my mother freaked on me. "If you've ruined my roast," she threatened, "You're losing your allowance for the next two weeks!" I kept the allowance.
The only thing that deterred me from going to chef's school a few years back, in 2000, when I was on the verge of getting a student loan for it, was when I read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. He explains how, as a chef, you never get invited for dinner, you never cook for yourself, you seldom get to enjoy people enjoying your food, and you have to commit to 60-hour weeks, minimum. I love food, and I love cooking for others, but I never wanted to begin hating it, and I knew I would if I had to forsake the rest of my life just for the kitchen.
Ah, cheeses. I'm visiting Les Amis today, as well as Vancouver's Granville Public Market, which some would say is overpriced, and perhaps it is, but if you know what to look for, it's not. I'll be acquiring chicken stock from The Stock Market, some veggies from other retailers, soem quality chicken, and then venturing just off the Island to Les Amis, where I'm not sure what I'll be in search of, but I'll be sure to tell them what I'm making, and see what they suggest. I know I need feta cheese, but I'll visit the Greek markets for the Macedonian sheeps' feta, which is this incredibly rich and delectable feta that just melts on your tongue. Pair that with some good oil and vinegar, and it's to die for.
I don't normally obsess about cheese. But I'm obsessing about cheese this morning because I fucking HATE the asiago* that destroyed my scrambled eggs this morning.
I'm out of veggies, so it was one tomato, two organic golden yolk eggs, a little butter, some strong cheddar, and some asiago. The asiago was... musty, dry, unbalanced, and as disappointing a cheese I've had since the over-hyped Tillamook "aged" cheddar that GayBoy seems to think is the bomb. (Sorry, baby, but you're delusional.)
Bad cheese is just wrong. To wreck scrambled eggs when served with sauteed cornmeal back bacon, 12-grain bread, and French-press coffee? A fucking sin! Travesty of travesties! Simply TRAGIC.
So, I ate a third of the sadly under/overwhelming eggs, and instead focused on the meat and bread. Saddened by my disappointing start to my day, I find myself getting increasingly psyched about a quest for foods. Vancouver is easily one of the best food cities in the world. We've got superlative organic farms, an incredible assortment of restaurants and specialty markets, with entire regions dedicated to all the different ethnic groups that make this city one of the most dynamic on the continent -- Italian, Asians of all kinds, Indian, Persian, Greek, French, Carribbean, and so forth. It can take years to learn all the great food resources available in this city. Every few months, I find someone else worth making a mental note on.
Maybe today I'll get lucky and learn something new. Maybe today's the day I discover the New Cheese that gets me Inspired to create more. What fun. Who needs to hunt? Just explore what your city has to offer, it's as good as getting any animal in the crosshairs, and no blood need be spilt.
*Moral of the story: Don't buy your Italian cheese from a Greek retailer -- they've never liked each other. I'll get it from Les Amis next time.