Wild Taste Pairings.
Finding the god in cheese and the answer in chocolate.
My earliest memory of cheese was opening my school lunch and finding a cheese stick. A milky white yellow stick of pressed cheese in the format of a finger with a long red strip down the side that you could zip open a snack between classes. Growing up in Australia, having such a lunch item was fraught with danger as the often high temperatures of my home town on the Sunshine Coast often meant my cheese stick was a cheese mush by the time I got to it at lunchtime. By no means was this cheese gastronomy, it only rated higher on the fun chart because it was a finger and not a boring old cheddar slice that we found in burgers.
I first became aware of the world of cheese in my early work career, traveling around Australia and visiting some fancy restaurants and finding, especially in the southern parts, a speciality of Tasmanian or Victorian cheeses which had built out a cottage industry and working to revamp the small scale cheesemaker. When I moved to Europe my mind exploded as I spent hours fingering the rinds and smelling the ripenings inside fromageries, that in my new world, happened to be on almost every street corner. I realised, I needed to replace my cheesefinger knowledge and experience the blue to pressed world of curds in a better way.
But I didn’t know where to start. I had been to some cheese tasting courses in Australia, but honestly the focus was more about wine and to be even more honest, I think I drank more wine and just hung out in the cheese caves chatting to my friends. It was still something that sat on a cracker when I served it at my home to friends in Frankfurt.
It wasn’t until I went to Rome for work, on numerous occasions and the colleagues kept taking me out and talking ohhh the cheese shop miss lyss, you will look dis, y dis y dis. And then I met Roberto. Roberto ran a small cheese store in the old town and my heels teetered almost over every time I went to visit him. I started a little education with him, visiting him every time I was in Rome. In the beginning, to be honest, it was because it was next to a hot shoe store that I liked to go swoon over.
And then over time, I would visit him and Roberto became the real attraction of the old centre of Rome for me. I would take home packages wrapped up in parchment paper to try with my friends on weekends. I felt like the little sourcer’s apprentice. (PS. Have you read my top picks for the best places for wine tasting local wines in Rome?)
I tried new styles and found very quickly what I liked and didn’t like. I am not the type of cheese lover who likes the aroma of feet. Or blueness. I love a hard pressed cheese, I love them aged in salt and brine and the older they are, the more I love them.
I was committed. Stopped buying cheese from the supermarket and became a cheese convert. Almost a snob. When in Frankfurt I would shop at the Kleinmarkthalle and pick up some fruits, nuts and cured meats to pair with at home.
Unfortunately, during this time, I was getting more ill from my corporate lifestyle and my doctor was advising me that the tumour in my intestine was aggravated by my lifestyle and eating habits. I stopped eating cheese. I stopped enjoying food.
It took years of recovery, however I came to learn that food is all about the beauty of the source and loving where it comes from. I wasn’t getting sick from Roberto’s cheese selection, I was getting sick from all the manufactured crap that I ate around it in my ‘busy busy’ world.
After returning from living in Ecuador and regaining my health, I slowly started to explore gastronomy again. Without fear. Trusting and knowing that when I pay attention to where things come from, eat them when my body wants it and pay attention to the stories and facts about it--- I will gain life, not lose life.
It’s not about what’s en trend, but about what I like and love. And that is what connoisseurship is. Learning the nuances, figuring out what you love, and why … and then enjoying it.
I am happy to make a pairing with my beloved cacao beans and cheese for you. It represents many things to me, from my own struggle with finding a place for gourmet experiences, to figuring out what I love myself. These are my favourite three choices for you – cacao beans to go with your hard pressed cheeses, cacao nibs to go with your stronger goats cheese and chocolate covered physalis berries to go with your blue cheeses. Bring them out, read the details on the inside of the cover, and also my guide to cheese which is available in the bundle. Have a great party, and let me know how it goes!
Get it while it's hot! Especially for LS readers we offer a special 5% discount if you enter ‘ take5 ‘ in the check out of the shopping cart here when stopping by Blyss Chocolate's online store: http://bit.ly/chocNcheese
—by Alyssa Jade McDonald-Bärtl