The Great Grilled Cheese Debate

Yesterday was National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day.  It’s a day to celebrate the glories of the grilled cheese sandwich and to reflect anew on the delectable nature of melty, gooey, crunchy goodness.

wide_51094On such a day, you’d expect red-blooded Americans to engage in a vigorous debate on the best way to make a grilled cheese sandwich — and, especially, what kind of cheese makes the best GCS.  The so-called experts will discuss at length the respective merits of different, high-end options like aged cheddar, fontina, gruyere, Monterey Jack, raclette, and havarti, but they also pooh-pooh the traditional choice that many of us grew up with — namely, American cheese.  One grilled cheese chef, who probably spoke with a grimace on her face, dismissed American cheese thusly:  “It’s not really cheese to me, it’s some kind of weird plastic-y substance that should be banned from the face of the earth.”

Well . . . lah de freakin’ dah!  I’m guessing that same expert would sneeringly dismiss the use of Wonder bread, too.

I beg to differ.  I love different cheeses, and I think those high-falutin’ grilled cheese sandwiches you can get at restaurants are just fine, but when I think of a truly succulent grilled cheese sandwich, I think of them the way Mom used to make them — with Kraft American cheese (or maybe Velveeta), on Wonder bread, with a little butter smeared on the outside, then grilled so there was a crunchy, buttery outer shell for the melty cheese inside.  And, of course, the resulting masterpiece of the culinary arts had to be sliced diagonally and served with Campbell’s tomato soup made with milk, so you could dip the edges of the sandwich into the soup and gobble the result up in perfect combination.

I’ll take Mom’s grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup over the fou fou offerings of the so-called “experts” any day of the week.  When National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day rolls around, that’s the one I’ll savor.

Curdling The Cheese

Last night I had a plate of cheese and some summer sausage for dinner.  A little Jarlsberg, some Amish Swiss, some Parmesan curls carefully knifed off of the big, hard Parmesan lump, and I was a happy camper.

cheese-1-1123-dcgjpg-086066ee270c3c55I’d say I have cheese for dinner approximately once a week.  I try different kinds of cheeses, filling the spectrum from hard to soft and from mild to the smelliest cheese you can imagine.  I like it all.  About the only cheese I won’t try is “flavored” cheese.  I prefer mine au naturel.  Sometimes I’ll combine it with nuts, or different kinds of olives, or pieces of fruit.  Grandma Webner would look at this kind of meal disdainfully and call it “piecing,” but it’s a nice, light repast when I’m just not in the mood for something heavier.

Now I learn that researchers from the University of Michigan, of all places, have concluded that cheese has casein, a chemical that can trigger the brain’s opioid receptors and produce the same kind of feeling of euphoria that users of hard drugs experience.   Their research is focused on trying to identify foods that may have addictive qualities and then use that information to combat obesity, issue new nutrition guidelines, restrict the marketing of such foods to children, and do all of the other things that “researchers” propose to do in the modern nanny state.

Leave it to the killjoys from That State Up North to raise concerns about the simple enjoyment of a few pieces of cheese!  And whatever the “research” might find, are we really going to conclude, after centuries of careful creation and cheerful consumption, from medieval monks on down to the modern day, that a few pieces of cheese are a bad thing?

American Cheese, Please

We’re cooking out tonight — we are on the cusp of the Fourth of July, you know — and we’ve got cheeseburgers on the menu.  The meat is ground chuck, to ensure a decent amount of fat and sizzle, and the cheese is American cheese.  Anything else would be misguided, and arguably unpatriotic, too.

What is American cheese, exactly?  Beats me, but it’s probably some combination of multiple different kinds of cheese, as befits our melting pot country.  And speaking of melting, no cheese does it better than good old American cheese.  

I’m a cheese lover, and I wouldn’t ever put American cheese on my cheese plate.  But on a burger, there’s really nothing better.

Cheese, Cheese, It’s Good For Your Heart

It’s always rewarding when you learn that something you consume routinely and really enjoy turns out to have alleged health benefits.

So, being a long-time turophile (i.e., a cheese lover) I was pleased to learn that eating cheese apparently helps you to live longer.  Tests on mice indicate that aged, runny, smelly cheeses — like blue cheese — contain a substance called spermidine that produces improved cardiac function.  Then, when scientists studied a group of 800 Italians to see whether noshing on cheese seemed to have health benefits for humans, they found that the Italians who ate more cheese had lower blood pressure, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and a significantly lower risk of heart failure.

Of course, we could debate whether a group of 800 Italians is a sufficiently large control group, or whether you can effectively screen out the influence of other life activities to determine that cheese consumption is the specific cause of the better heart health results — but since I like the results of the study and it supports my cheese-eating habits, we’ll just say that laboratory mice and 800 Italians can’t be wrong.

A Late Afternoon Snack

009After a long day of walking took us ultimately to the Pantheon, Richard and I walked around the Panthon neighborhood and found an excellent fromagerie. Some sheep’s milk cheese, some goat’s milk cheese, and some Morbier, a fresh baguette, and some wine purchased at the nearby wine shop, and we were ready to have a snack and play some cribbage.

The bread, cheese, and wine here are very inexpensive but of very good quality. I would gladly eat cheese and baguette just about every day of the week.

The Thursday Night Wind-Down

It’s Thursday night.  It’s been a long week already, but you’ve made it this far.

IMG_3802Your eyes are crusty with fatigue.  Your body has been crushed by the weight of work, and there is that persistent, nagging pain in your right shoulder blade area that won’t go away no matter how much you try to rub it out.  Your brain has the mental acuity of a damp dishcloth.  You sit, eyes glazed and mind leaden . . . and then you realize that the weekend is only one day away.  One stinking day!

How best to prepare?  A glass of wine, for certain.  Let the nectar of the grape tantalize your tongue and tickle your fancy.  And some cheese, to be sure.  Hummus sounds good, too.

Gramma Webner, as a reflection of her Appalachian roots, would call it “piecing”  — eating a few different, little things, nothing too formal or heavy.  And let’s take it easy with how quickly we consume it, shall we?  No need to bolt down that food.  We’re not going anywhere.

That takes care of senses of sight, and smell, and taste, and touch — but what about hearing?  Some island music, perhaps . . . say, The Banana Boat Song, and a mix of calypso and reggae and conga music.  Day-oMe say day-o!

Yes, that should do the trick.

The Perfect Dinner

After a short respite at the apartment, Richard and I decided to strike out for dinner.  We headed in a different direction from where we had gone before, and at first it seems like a complete failure.  Most of the places were closed on a May Day Sunday evening, and the prospects were grim.  Ultimately, however, we found at place that served food.

To my delight, the only food they served was exactly the food I wanted.  That would be chacuterie — that is, meat and cheese.  One plate was filled with different kinds of cheese, and the other was filled with different kinds of meat.  It was exactly what I wanted — prosciutto, and dry sausage, and ground duck, and a combination of duck and pork pate on one plate, and different kinds of cheese — goat cheese, and Edam, and Camembert, and other cheeses on the other.  Combine them with a few Belgian beers (and here I’m thinking of you, Mr. Duhamel) and you have the perfect dinner.

Then we came home, and Richard taught me how to play a weird variant of seven-card Gin Rummy, and he kicked my butt in the process.  We had the windows of the apartment wide open, and were listening to the Beatles on the iPod as we heard the students of the Sorbonne pass by below.

It was not a bad night.

Artisanal Cheese (Cont.)

I’ve written before about the Lake Erie Creamery and its excellent locally sourced products — products that may help point the way to a solid future for Ohio agriculture.  Now Cousin Jeff has advised of a fine showing by the Minerva Dairy at the U.S. Championship Cheese Competition in Wisconsin.  The Dairy’s lace cheese won third-place honors in the open class semi-soft cheese category.

Jeff mentioned the Minerva Dairy‘s achievement because he is a proud resident of the Minerva area and a strong proponent of local sourcing — and because he promised to bring some of the award-winning cheese when he comes to visit this weekend.  (Hooray!)

The award to the Minerva Dairy just proves, again, that you can get great, fresh, well-made foods that are grown, raised, and produced right here in Ohio.  The fact that your purchases are supporting local farmers and artisans just makes the food taste that much better.

 

 

Artisanal Cheese And A Possible Future For Ohio Family Farms

The Kishmans have long owned family farms in the Vermilion area.  Kish’s Dad described himself as a “general farmer.”  He grew corn and soybeans, once kept a chicken coop, and tended to beef cattle because he loved being around animals.  The Kishmans were like many Ohio families who worked the land on property that had been in the family for generations.

Agriculture has always been a big part of the Ohio economy.  According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, Ohio has more than 75,000 farms.  The vast majority of these  are family-owned operations, although some of the larger farms are owned by families through corporations.  The statistics also indicate that 2.7 percent of the farms in Ohio produce more than $500,000 in agricultural products.  Most farms, therefore, are smaller business operations. It is unclear how many of those farm involve “general farming,” as opposed to production of only a single crop.  And there are ongoing concerns about how those family farms are faring in an increasingly competitive where, in recent years at least, the credit that farmers need has become scarce and banks have been skittish about lending.

Recently I went to the North Market to buy some cheese and decided to buy an Ohio product.  The proprietor of the cheese stand at the Market recommended Blomma goat’s milk cheese produced by Lake Erie Creamery.  The cheese was extraordinarily good — and made me realize, yet again, that Ohio has a lot to offer, including great, locally sourced meats, cheeses, and produce for foodies and regular folks alike.

It turns out that Lake Erie Creamery is a husband and wife operation that produces artisanal goat’s milk cheese in Cleveland.  They purchase milk from a family farm in Portage County, make it into cheese in Cleveland, return the whey that is a byproduct of the cheese-making process to local farms for hog and chicken feed, and sell their cheeses locally.  Blomma is one of several excellent cheeses made by Lake Erie Creamery.

It’s a great story, and one that I imagine is duplicated elsewhere in Ohio.  It makes me wonder if the future of Ohio agriculture, in part, lies not in the general farming of the past, but in an artisanal approach where Ohio farmers — whose operations could easily be in urban areas, as is the case with Lake Erie Creamery — focus on growing or making one kind of food, be it cheeses, radishes, milk, beef, or blackberries, and make them the best products imaginable.  Americans have an appetite for high-quality food items and, as the booming “local-sourcing” movement indicates, they will pay a bit more for something that is fresh, high quality, and different.

I’d like to see the artisanal agriculture movement take off because it offers a model that will allow family farming, which has been such an important part of Ohio’s history and heritage, to continue.  And those family farm jobs can’t be moved overseas, either.