For about the first 10 years of my life, cheese meant only one thing, Trappista. This was the Jolly Joker of cheeses. It tasted good with everything. If I wanted to eat a ham sandwich, I topped it with Trappista. Battered, fried cheese, I reached for Trappista. Even spaghetti was served with grated Trappista. Looking back, it seems like almost all of my culinary experiences evolved around this cheese.
There is a reasonable explanation to it. First of all, I’m Hungarian, and for some reason, this became the non plus ultra, the most popular cheese in my country. Second, at the time I was a child, there was not much else people could afford. And last, we were not very educated food wise. Traditional food was ruling the whole country, or at least my family’s kitchen.
I don’t remember when I was first acquainted with Camembert, but I know I didn’t like it. The taste was off, and the white mold around seemed to me very unappetizing. The next time I tried it, it landed on my plate in a restaurant. Battered, fried served with blueberry jam and rice. I didn’t eat it. The taste was bitter, not what I was wishing for, and the jam didn’t help much. After all, I was used to eating Trappista.
So cheese and I didn’t have a good start, but as I grew older, I’ve learned to appreciate, – no not appreciate – to love good quality cheese and surely cannot and want not imagine my life without it. Living in the land of cheese (and chocolate), I had to face the fact, that I actually don’t know anything about it. I’m mesmerized by the variety of cheeses, and find every day a new sort, that I haven’t tried before. Not to mention the road trips I take to France confuses me even more. How to pick a favorite when there are so many?
I wonder why we -I mean Hungary- never became more of a cheese nation. We most certainly love dairy products, so that raises a huge question mark in my head. Almost all of our neighbours had cows 30 years ago. Cows were everywhere I’ve turned, gathering in the early mornings to be taken to the field and rushed back to the stalls for the evening milking. I still cannot recall a single moment of someone offering me home made cheese.
Loving cheese is encoded in the DNA of the Swiss. I however, could never get used to fondue, I am more of a Raclette person. You might say that it is the same difference, both of them are just melted cheese, but you’re wrong. Eating Raclette is a more of a cold weather ritual. It takes time. Slowly melting a huge piece of cheese under heat, scrapping it off onto a plate, pairing it with Bündnerfleisch, potato and cornichons, cutting, swallowing, waiting again for your turn. In the meantime, you sip on cool white wine and chatter with your friends, until your tummy is satisfied and your cheeks burn from both the heat of the grill and the wine. It’s really something I recommend to try.
On other days I just feel like eating cheese with biscotti. Might sound strange, but it is a perfect match to cheese. Think about it. Doesn’t a slightly sweet, crunchy biscotti packed with dried fruits topped with creamy Roquefort sound mouthwatering? Don’t say no until you’ve tried it! I’m also a big fan of sweet jelly with cheese, and crisp hazelnut thyme cookies accompanied whit a glass of wine, naturally. I like to close my eyes, and imagine that I’m on a vacation in the Provence. But how should I know, I’ve never been there before. But it’s the feeling that counts. Right?