Cheeze, Pleeze: The pleasures of a monthly cheese subscription

Cheesy goodness at my front door? Yes, please!

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My six-month relationship with a fellow gourmand went south a while ago but, as always, I keep the good parts–and the Cheesemonger’s Picks of the Month Club from Murray’s Cheese in NYC is very, very good. Exquisite, in fact.

For $75 per month I get four heavenly cheeses delivered to my home on the second Thursday of the month. I then procure wines from Vino!, my favorite wine shop, where their wonderful wine experts take a gander at the Murray’s recommendations and help me select bottles that will delight my picky taste buds without breaking my delicate budget.

Place the cheeses on a board, add some toasted nuts, charcuterie, fruit, crackers, bread, olives, jam, and whatever else I have on hand, and voila! We’ve got a tasty way to share an evening with friends.


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My fiancee Tom and I have made a ritual of trying the cheeses. I enter with the wrapped wedges and rounds on a board while Tom sings a “Pomp and Circumstance”-style march. Then, one by one, we read aloud the description of each cheese before tasting it. This month’s guest, a neighbor and new friend, did not appreciate this portion of the evening, but did it stop me? Ha!

Reading about the cheeses, for her, was like taking one’s medicine, or having to eat all the peas on your plate before getting dessert. Nerd that I am, I love learning about each cheese–how it’s made, where it comes from, what flavors to expect and seek as I roll the morsel about on my tongue.

With each cheese we taste, we sip one the  paired wine. This leaves us with several bottle of opened wine to drink within the next few days–darn it!

This month’s cheeses were all yummy. The stilton was creamy and peppery, and paired beautifully with a rose brut. We didn’t have port, which was also recommended, but it would have tasted superb–any sweet wine would do, in fact.

The comte, which I absolutely love, was smooth and nutty.

The Moliterno al Tartufo was rich and surprisingly non-grainy for a pecorino, and the layer of truffle paste sent my taste buds right over the top.

Cabernet sauvignon–the 2014 Cadareta, a Columbia Valley wine–provided the perfect al Tartufo accompaniment: elegant and with a clean finish, not jammy or loaded with tannins as Washington cabernets can be.

But the winner of this month’s tasting was the Vermont Creamery Cremont, so buttery soft that I couldn’t remove the entire round from its plastic case. I lifted out creamy wedges to serve, instead. Fluffy and mild, the cremont had us coming back for extra servings. I had to stop myself from using a spoon.

To accompany our cheese-feast, I served sliced ham from local Ramstead Ranch, the juiciest and most tender ham I have ever tasted; Italian dry salame; crackers; fig jam; local apples; toasted walnuts, and white beans in truffle oil. Let’s eat!

Speaking of which, I’m off to the fridge for a tasty lunch of cremont. Spoon in hand.


Portugal’s best-kept secret

I’d expected rough. Coarse. Peasant.

Portuguese food is the fare of fishermen: cod, potatoes, and spicy linguica sausage, right?

Well, yes. And no.

Three days into my visit to Portugal, I’ve had giant chunks of fried cod with gills attached and spread like wings, the chewy flesh and mound of mashed potatoes resting in a puddle of butter redolent of rosemary–the dish’s only saving grace besides the price, at 12 euros proving that you do, indeed, get what you pay for.

I’ve chawed “veal” reminiscent of pot roast served in a rustic sauce with boiled potatoes and a coarse and hearty house-made wine.

But also, in Portugal, I’ve tasted sublimity. The delicate oxtail ravioli at Cozinha (Co-ZIN-ya) da Clara at the Quinta de la Rosa wine hotel in Pinhao (Pin-YAO) offered three delicate pillows of tender, juicy shredded beef in a light cream sauce with two button shiitake mushrooms that served as a perfect, chewy, umami counterpoint.

Ever since tasting the ravioli at L’Osteria del Forno in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood a trillion years ago–its pastry melting on the tongue and filling me with ecstasy–I’ve tried in vain to replicate that tender nirvana in the kitchen. In restaurants, I’ve ordered, my mouth optimistically watering, only to bite down on al dente–hardly the texture for ravioli, IMO.

This creamy, ethereal pasta felt like a cloud in my mouth, and the flavors of sweet cream, fragrant basil oil, and savory meat made me wish I could dine on its deliciousness all day.

More delights awaited my palate in the Vintage House Hotel restaurant, however, where a pricey menu had sent most of my entourage to the bar for finger food. I ventured forth in pursuit of the acclaimed cauliflower soup, and never looked back.

A thing of beauty, right? And what you see here is much, much less than what you get.

Yes, this delectable dish has a fork-tender shrimp that pops with flavor.

Yes, it has a divine broth and crispy crumbs of bread that somehow hold their crunch even while swimming in cream–deconstructed toasted croutons.

But under that shrimp is a sweet, tender little mound of cauliflower shredded into grains and cooked until, upon contact with the tongue, it melts away, leaving you wanting another spoonful, and another.

Scraping the bottom of the too-shallow dish, I felt tempted to lick the bowl. Or the chef.

A more blissful soup has never been had. And it was fashioned, mind you, from the lowly cauliflower, among the most humble of vegetables or, indeed, foods.

But I imagine that the fishers of Portugal, a humble group, themselves, have had plenty of practice at making culinary silk purses from sow’s ears.

The ability to do so is what separates professionals from amateurs–and makes the gourmet delights of Portugal, along with its handsome men and beautiful women, perhaps among its best-kept secrets.