The Madeline Myth
I’ve always felt a little sore because I don’t have a pivotal (good) food memory. A meal or single ingredient that shaped you into the human you are today. You know, the fodder for like 85% of all food related essays. “Going home” literally and figuratively. Discovering yourself through family or life changing travels, and all the better if your tale involves a rustic village on the European continent.
(In fact, I was a little weirded out yesterday when I opened the new Gourmet to discover an article from the woman who does (did?) the Bruni Digest—about an ancestral home in Finland and the cuisine that accompanies these summer sojourns. I absolutely do not know the path that takes one from blogging smart, satire of a New York Times food critic to writing intergenerational food pieces in highly coveted venue. But then, such leaps have always mystified me.)
But it turns out that I do have a foreign food memory (I’m still working on the family component), albeit minor, and didn’t even realize it. Last century, when I still spent lots of weekends in the East Village, I would frequent the East Village Cheese Shop. Sure, everything was on the verge of turning bad but it was cheap as hell. The dollar selections up front would charm me and I always fell victim to Castello Blue, a little half circle, wrapped in gold foil and boxed in cardboard. One buck for the creamiest, brie-blue hybrid ever.
It was so good that it had to be trashy. At least that’s my nonsensical logic. A purist would just eat full on piquant blue cheese or triple cream brie unadorned. Blue Castello is the anti-Cabrales. Someone that would enjoy tempering one with the other has no respect. I’ve never been respectful, though.
I never knew such a two-in-one treat existed, at least I didn’t think so until I remembered bleu de bresse. Eighteen years ago I spent a miserable July in a 17th century country home in Southwestern France. My attempt at being a summer exchange student was not a success. I didn’t appreciate my bucolic environs one bit, could barely communicate and was bored out of my mind. But I did like the bleu de bresse when the after dinner cheese plate came out.
Well, it was a Tupperware container of cheeses, some past their prime. My host mom (who I described in my diary at the time as looking like Peg Bundy with Rod Stewart’s face, and I would stick with that assessement today) considered herself to be “modern,” which meant we ate frozen food (even the baguettes) and watched TV during dinner. Two things I had been led to believe were absolute no-nos in France. Honestly, I could’ve cared less about either at sixteen (and got a kick out of Dana Hill being in like every TV movie. I currently get a kick out of the fact that there's a guy mysteriously named Dana Hill who works remotely at my company) but did notice the discrepancies.
The creamy bleu de bresse was the only edible that demanded an inquisitive qu'est-ce que c'est from me. I’ve never sought it out since and never see it anyway. I’m not sure that it’s even sold in the U.S. But I’ve been eating approximations for years without realizing where I got the taste for the style in the first place.
Whenever I’m presented with an opportunity to try a creamy blue, it’s impossible to pass up. I’ve been trying to limit my cheese intake (when I go on healthy eating binges, I don’t miss sweets so much as rich dairy products) but soft blues are my weakness. I’ve bought two wedges in the past two weeks. See, no self-control. And it fits into my fetish for blue food.
As long as I’m unable to resist my urges I may as well sample the variations I encounter. First up is an odd cheese to start with because it doesn’t completely fit into this category.
Last week I read about Mountain Top Blue on The Kitchen and felt inspired to track it down because the store mentioned in the post happens to be walkable from my apartment. I’m not one for going all that out of my way for comestibles so this was like a cheesey siren song I couldn’t tune out.
This pyramid shaped cheese doesn’t fit my M.O. because it’s an artisanal goat milk concoction and the blue aspect is minimal. Also, at $15 a pop, it's pricier than my usual snacky impulse purchases. It’s more like a very good mild and nutty goat cheese with a hint of tanginess from the blue. It’s also more substantial and less melting than the styles I normally relish. You can cut a slice without it buckling under its own melting texture. I suspect that with age, this cheese would soften up in the center, but it didn’t last long enough to get that gooey. Purchased on a Friday evening, it was history by Monday morning. I might buy it to share at a party, but it almost felt obscene to pick at the blob solo over a weekend.