Tag Archives: cheese

My day of eats, Bay Area edition

Just now back from a short visit to MSRI, where I spent four invigorating days collaring participants in this semester’s special program and asking them various algebro-geometric questions I’ve been storing up for just such an occasion.

Also, I ate a lot.  Wednesday went something like this.  I was meeting Akshay Venkatesh in the Mission to talk about Galois groups;  I set off the wrong way from the 24th and Mission BART, which had the good effect of bringing me past Dianda’s Italian-American Pastry, where I got a good and toothsome cannoli (but with a maraschino cherry lodged in the filling at each end — why?)  I met Akshay at the agreeably full-of-itself Ritual Roasters, where I had a fine, but not outstanding, swiss-dill-scallion scone.  I wanted a torta for lunch — Mission burritos are fine, but it’s a real Cal-Mex torta that I miss here in Madison.  But on the way I was distracted by something I’ve always wanted to see — a Filipino restaurant!  This one was called Kababayan and most of the offerings were big, gristly-looking pieces of meat swimming in various chafing trays.  I dodged those and got some pansit and an ukoy — the former a slightly sour dish of short glassy noodles, the latter a kind of shrimp latke — and ate them on the way.  Greasy, satisfying, but mostly of ethnographic interest.  The torta de pierna at La Torta Sabrosa, was tasty, but a little subdued, not offering the glorious sloppy excess I get from torta at its best.

That was all for the Mission.  On the way back to Berkeley I got off at the Embarcadero and wandered through the Ferry Building, which turns out to be 10% about getting on a boat to Sausalito and 90% about ultra-chichi food vendors.  My kind of place.  At the Cowgirl Creamery store I got a little crottin-sized cheese called Inverness, which, like everything else from CC, was terrific; pungent and direct but not a bit unfresh.  I chased that with a “salumi cone” from Boccalone, whose motto, “Tasty Salted Pig Parts,” is an accurate and essentially exhaustive description of the merchandise.  The cone was mortadella, sopressata, and of course a healthy slice of cooked pig’s head to provide some gelatinous crunch.

Then it was back to Berkeley and old favorites.  I met some friends for dinner at Gregoire’s, where I had a simple and delicious dish of fried, battered scallops.  I realized, just after we ordered, that Cheeseboard, the nation’s best pizzeria, was still open for fifteen more minutes; so I hustled across the street and brought back a slice with roasted tomato and gremolata in place of my usual appetizer of Gregoire’s magnificent frites.

We sat at dinner for long enough that, when we passed good old Crepes-A-Go-Go on the way home, I couldn’t resist stopping in.  It’s actually now called “Crepes Ooh La La” and apparently isn’t affiliated with the other store on Telegraph.  Anyway, their banana and Nutella crepe always ends a day right.  As it did this day.

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The most seductive of all semisoft cheeses

That’s Steven Jenkins’s magisterial Cheese Primer on Morbier. I love this book, both for its exhaustive treatment of almost every interesting cheese you can buy in the U.S., and for its awesome level of self-satisfaction. Well, I’d be satisfied with myself too if I’d eaten as much good cheese as Steven Jenkins. Here he is on Brillat-Savarin:

Caterers and many of my customers find this cheese to be an impressive offering — elegant and memorable, a cheese that evokes ooohs and aaahs…. Personally, I prefer my cheese to be less showy, less machine-made, less creamy, and more piquant, but whatever makes you happy is good.

The chill of Jenkins’ implied disapproval is hard to stand, but I am crazy about the Brillat-Savarin, which is indescribably rich but just tangy enough not to be boring. “It is rather one-dimensional,” Jenkins says, “much like eating a stick of butter.” Point taken, but if you’re cheese and you’re only going to have one dimension, this is the one to have.

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A great Wisconsin cheese: Carr Valley’s Mobay, which I ate several chunks of tonight while I tried to write up a piece of mathematics I was quite confused about. The math is still muddled but the cheese is near-perfect — flavorful and complicated without being overbearing. (Not to say I don’t like overbearing cheese, but that’s another post.) Mobay combines a layer of sheep cheese with a layer of goat cheese, the two being separated by a layer of vegetable ash. Regarding the deep question posed by the posted link above, I’m pretty sure the yellow side is the sheep and the white side is the goat.

Mobay is a Wisconsin take on Morbier, a cheese from Franche-Comte which is all cow — the ash separates curds from the morning and evening milkings. Morbier is also the cheese that takes a star turn in Paul Muldoon’s poem, “The Mud Room”:

It was time, I felt sure, to unpack the Suntory
into the old fridge, to clear a space between De Rerum Natura
and Virgil’s Eclogues,
a space in which, at long last, I might unlock
the rink, so I drove another piton into an eighty-pound
bag of Sakrete and flipped the half door on the dairy cabinet
of the old Hotpoint
and happened, my love, just happened
upon the cross
section of Morbier and saw, once and for all, the precarious
blue-green, pine-ash path along which Isaac followed Abraham
to an altar lit by a seven-branched candelabrum,
the ram’s horn, the little goat whirligig
that left him all agog.

Read more about the poem in this review of Muldoon’s collection Hay by Steve. Question: was the cheese in Muldoon’s New Jersey freezer really Morbier — which has no goat and whose ash line is kind of grey-black — or Mobay, which is half goat, which has a blue-green ash line, and which I know from experience is sold in Princeton’s best cheese shop, Bon Appetit? Help me out, cheese-loving poetry critics!

(Carr Valley’s website. Official Morbier website.)

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