This evening I ate a delightful dinner of Jacob’s Cream Crackers and a really nice aged Brie cheese with some pickled onions and European gherkins. The cheese was particularly nice because it had been marked down by Food Lion as being close to its so called “expiration date”. I bought it and then kept it for a month or so after that before I even attempted to eat it and as it was it was beautiful, with a really nice nutty flavor with the perfect, how can I put it, moldy aftertaste that I expect from a good Brie.
It always amazes me that people who make their money by selling food know so little about it. Cheese doesn’t expire, like wine it only gets better with age. I remember twenty years ago shopping at a specialty foods market and coming across a particularly rare (for the US) four-year old aged cheddar. I seized upon it and my then boss said to me “why would you want to eat four-year old cheese?” and I replied “for the same reason you enjoy a 10 year-old Scotch”. I am sure that there are some regulations in the US that require cheese to have an expiration date but to be honest it is really quite silly.
I can attest to this silliness by recounting the story of my visit to Cheddar Gorge, the birthplace of Cheddar (and it’s bastard, sullen child “American Cheese”). There they make the cheese the old fashioned way, preparing the cheese and letting it mature in the caves which provide the ideal environment for it to acquire the delicious nutty, sharp taste that is real cheddar. I sat outside of an ancient pub there and enjoyed the ultimate “Ploughman’s Lunch”, slices of crusty home made bread, farmhouse butter, great wedges of cheddar cheese fresh from the caves, pickled onions and a hearty chutney all washed down with a bitter shandy. The cheddar was the best I have ever eaten, and it has lived in my memory since that time.
To this day as a result of me not being able to buy a really good mature cheddar over here I regularly buy soon-to-be-expiring cheese and “put it up” as one would with a good wine. Leaving it for a good long while before I actually decide to eat it. Nor am I adverse to eating moldy cheese (Brie of course is encased in mold), I simply chop off the moldy bits (which usually get fed to the dogs) and consume the rest which has, thanks to the mold, acquired a really nice flavor.
This brings me to American Cheese. While I do not want to cast dispersions on my adopted country American Cheese should be reported to the trades descriptions council on a regular basis. American Cheese is known in my home country as “processed cheese” in other words it has been turned into what my dear old Dad called “plastic cheese” (on the other hand cheese spread was known as “invisible cheese”) we used processed cheese in my house occasionally because it was cheap, dirt cheap, and for good reason. Processed (or American) cheese is so far divorced from what real cheese actually is that it should be given a category of its own and placed there, perhaps it can hang out with Tofurkey.
I urge all of you to hunt down real cheese. The sheer delight of placing a cube of Cathedral White Cheddar on one’s tongue and feeling it melt with the heat of the mouth and deliver a myriad of flavors onto the tongue’s unsuspecting taste buds cannot be explained. I know that there are cheese makers here in the US that can produce spectacular cheese, but unfortunately they are buried under the mountain of “American Cheese” that floods the market. Discover real cheese. You owe it to yourself and to your taste buds.