Cheese has always been a serious matter in my household. My father is in general one of those people unwilling to spend more than absolutely necessary on what he needs; if I’m buying a packet of cocoa powder, or a cut of meat, or a new phone, he has always found it necessary to query why I’m buying this or that particular brand or style, and inform me (usually more than once) that I would have spent less if I’d bought said thing somewhere else, or a different brand’s version. There are, however, a few things he does not compromise on: marmalade, bread, and cheese. Never once has he argued with me over the price of a loaf of bread, and anything labeled as “cheese food” or “spray cheese” is not allowed in the house. We bought Velveeta once to make nachos, but it was pronounced a failure. I do remember a brief period from my childhood when we had Kraft slices at home, possibly because I had begged for them–I have absolutely no memories of taking them to school for lunch, but I think we used them for cheese toast–but when Cabot cheese appeared in our local supermarket, that was the end of individually wrapped, plasticky cheese. I also remember my mother describing how someone had told her that she cooked macaroni and cheese for dinner at least once a week, because it was so tasty and saved her money, and wondering how it could possibly save her money when a block of cheese for the dish cost so much; I’m not sure my mother had ever realized, at least at that point, that a box of macaroni and cheese mix included powdered stuff that resembled cheese sauce when prepared.
As long as there has been high-quality cheese available in our local supermarkets, preferably imported from the UK or France or Italy, there has always been a block of cheddar in our refrigerator. It is often accompanied by a piece of brie or camembert, and more recently, Danish blue. I’d make a great many more trips to the Whole Foods cheese counter if my income allowed. (When I lived in Edinburgh there was J. Mellis Cheesmongers, one of the nicest cheese shops ever. Mellis has six locations in Scotland; I’ve lived within a five-minute walk of three of them, at various times. Of the many, many things I miss about Scotland, this is one of them. If Atlanta has anything comparable, I haven’t found it yet.) Costco has been, if not a life-saver, at least a great boon in this regard.
One of the perks of frequently housesitting for friends is getting to watch the cable stations that my own provider doesn’t carry. A few years ago I was channel surfing and came across a show called Cheese Slices, or Cheese Chasers. (It seems to have different names depending on where it’s aired.) It’s a half hour program devoted entirely to cheese, and honestly, given how much people love cheese (it’s as addictive as a drug, apparently, did you know?) I don’t know why no one thought of this years ago. Each episode is devoted to a different region of the world known for producing a specific variety of cheese, and the host, Will Studd, goes to different commercial and home-grown businesses that produce the cheese. They discuss each variety’s history, the milk it’s made from–often accompanied by shots of the herds kept to produce said milk–the legal restrictions it’s subject to, and usually a meal or two that features the cheese. I find it fascinating, and endlessly irritating that it’s only available in broken-up segments on YouTube–I’d happily buy the series on dvd if it was available; episodes are available for purchase on his website, but I don’t know what the cost is per show. I suspect it’s more than I’m willing to pay, at least for now. There are clips available on YouTube, if you hunt for them–look for Will Studd, because if you just do a search for “Cheese Chasers” you get a lot of clips of a classic cartoon episode by the same name. If you happen to have a cable service provided that carries the otherwise ridiculous Wealth TV (now labeling itself A Wealth of Entertainment), keep an eye out for it.
Studd himself is an evangelist for unpasteurized milk and dairy products, which I don’t entirely agree with. I do think it’s silly to prohibit the sale of unpasteurized cheeses, because they do have a flavor that can’t be achieved with pasteurized milk, and can be delicious; I don’t know of anywhere that prohibits the making and consumption of sushi, as long as any such sale is accompanied by the obligatory warning about the possibility of becoming sick from eating uncooked fish. On the other hand, the law on the sale of unpasteurized milk exists for a good reason, as grotesquely and effectively illustrated in an early episode of Boardwalk Empire. People can easily see the difference between uncooked and cooked fish, chicken, and meat; pasteurized and unpasteurized milk, and the cheese made therefrom, isn’t similarly distinguishable at a glance.
But back to the cheese. Each episode finishes off with a meal–many of them are simple picnics, pairing the cheeses with local meats and wines, and some require specific pans that I don’t have access to, or techniques I haven’t mastered (I *will* make a proper frittata one day. I will), but there was one recipe that I am going to try just as soon as I find the right sort of cheese. I wish I could link to the original clip, or give credit to the family who seems to have thought of this (unless it’s a traditional local dish that I just haven’t been able to guess the name of, I did try searching by ingredients), and the next time I get a chance to see the episode I will (it’s in episode 6 of season 1, I think), but until then, try this, it looks delicious.
You will need a bowl at least 3 inches or so deep and a saucepan large enough to fit the bowl easily inside. A steamer insert would also be handy, but isn’t necessary. Fill the saucepan an inch deep with water and bring the boil. While the water is heating, crumble or shred a few slices of Lancashire cheese and sprinkle them in a ring around the edge of the bowl. Crack an egg into the center of the cheese ring. (Amounts of cheese and egg can be increased according to how many people are sharing the dish.) Cut a fresh Roma or other small tomato or two into thin slices and arrange them over the cheese in a ring. Set the bowl carefully into the pan of boiling water–use an oven glove or a dishtowel to avoid burning yourself. (This is where the steamer basket is a handy thing, if you have one.) Cover the saucepan with its lid and allow to steam for five minutes–more time may be necessary if you’ve got more than one egg. Remove the bowl carefully from the pan, again being careful not to burn yourself. Serve with a loaf of crusty bread, toasted or fresh. Spoon the melted cheese and poached egg onto the bread as you eat. Comfort food at its finest, and great for a cool autumn or winter morning.