It was a glorious experiment, one that doesn't happen often in my kitchen. I decided to make ice cream with cheese. I had seen this mentioned in a brochure or magazine once, and it was too intriguing not to try. A local cheese with the texture of a Reblochon, a heady flavor close to but not quite as strong as a Camembert, an orange-tinged, slightly sticky crust to be trimmed off before chopping the creamy pale interior and adding it to a pot of milk and sugar to dissolve and melt.
Cheese ice cream. We rarely have company for dinner yet this day we did. Friends in town to visit and their daughter. Once the meal was over, I pulled out the chilled concoction from the refrigerator and slowly poured it into our hand-crank ice cream machine. We took turns churning, passing the container around the table, from one family member and guest to the next, the anticipation and excitement mounting as the mixture chilled and firmed up into something thick and creamy. And it was ready.
I unscrewed the lid and lifted out the paddle. We peered into the canister. The ice cream was oddly granular and tinged an unappetizing yellow. I spooned scoops into each waiting bowl and passed them around. We each stared into our own bowl of cheese ice cream, then nervously at each other. Suddenly a bit less anxious to try. Who would begin?
A first taste and noses wrinkled. Odd. Weird. Sugary sweet, savory and cheesy all at once. An unexpected combination that did not quite balance out into something tasty. Mmmm no, I don't really think…. A second mouthful. Not very good, is it? A third and then a fourth. Well, it actually isn't that bad… it is, well, intriguing, curiously interesting. The bottom of the bowl, spoons clattering against glass, eyes shifting from one to the other. Um, is there enough for a second bowl? More scoops all around to buoyant, grinning guests, the second bowl of cheese ice cream going down much quicker than the first amid groans of pleasure. Cheese ice cream! Excellent! Who would have thought? Quite good!
My father had an old Brownie camera, a black plastic box, not too big, not too heavy, that created memories. His Hawkeye Brownie in shiny Bakelite sported a cute little carrying handle and an attachment allowing us to screw in tiny little bulbs that flashed with a satisfying pop like in an old film noir. A drawerful of square black & white photos is proof positive of his passion for capturing images, albeit sometimes blurry, stills of giggling children, smiles frozen in time, caught in the joyous movement of childhood or formally posed like good little soldiers. Say cheese! The flimsy, frilly-edged snapshots with the date stamped indelibly in the white edging framing the smiling – or otherwise – faces of the four of us and mom fading gently into ghosts of time past now lay strewn across my own desktop connecting me to something long gone.
I have hazy memories of carrying dad’s Brownie to Girl Scout camp, careful not to break it, allowed to snap pictures of my friends, creating my very own memories. Say cheese! But I do clearly remember my first camera, my very own, a Pocket Instamatic. You remember the Instamatic, the slim rectangle now sporting a long, slim loop that I could slip onto my wrist, the cubes snapped one by one onto the camera itself that flashed and clicked as it turned one-two-three times. Rolls and rolls of film, piles of snapshots flipped through over and over again: camp and school parades, holidays and family vacations and one exciting trip to Israel now fill envelopes and albums in glorious Technicolor dimming to yellow.
A Polaroid stuck away in a drawer now gathering dust was a long-ago gift, possibly high school graduation. As simple and quick to use as my old Instamatic, the Polaroid gave immediate gratification. Snap – thunk – kkksssshhhhh and out popped a fuzzy gray square of silence. Patience and anticipation and an image like magic burnished onto paper slowly revealed itself, like an exotic striptease, baring its soul.
From one camera to the next, I grew up learning to aim and shoot, a quick squint and click and the moment was captured forever. With a simple Say Cheese!
As anyone who has traveled to France knows, cheese is an integral part of the country's culinary patrimony and an integral part of daily life. And an essential element of every meal. First course followed by main course, followed by salad. Always. And then the host or the cook carries out a beautifully arranged cheese platter offering each diner, each convive, a selection of hard and soft, tangy, sharp, strong and mild. Balance a fresh goat cheese with a slice of nutty, fruity Comté, a wedge of fragrant Camembert, a segment of salty Bleu.
When it came to guests, my husband has always taken extra special care at the fromagerie selecting the perfect cheese platter. And when my family, my mother and brothers arrived at the birth of our first son, my new husband (who had never met them before) wanted nothing but the best. And to make a good impression.
Sitting at the long table wedged into the tiny living room in our miniature doll's house, our first home, he served up a beautiful meal. I had married an excellent cook. He cleared the dishes and set new, of course, a clean plate, knife and fork for each guest for the cheese course.
And he came out of the kitchen proudly bearing a gorgeous cheese platter. And my younger brother screeched, jumped up and ran – ran – out of the house and down the street.
When questioned later, he claimed to have an overwhelming, an indomitable, a powerful disgust of cheese and the very stink of the thing had him running for dear life.
The Big Cheese
A first meeting with my future in-laws. A first impression. I so wanted to please. I could barely speak the language, floundering through a conversation in stumbling schoolgirl French, praying like the dickens that I would understand what they said to me.
We had invited them to the big, old communal house that we shared with a dozen other men and women, a motley crew. The others had so kindly left us in peace. Husband prepared a glorious meal, not too fancy, not too special or his humble, folksy, simple parents would have balked. And of course, a cheese platter. I have never in all my days as a member of that family once known them to skip the cheese course.
Near the end of the meal, a loud clatter emanates from the kitchen. Future husband jumps up and scrambles through the dividing door only to reappear with an empty cheese platter. That dog of his, scamp and rascal with the piercing, golden eyes and the personality, the cleverness of a human, had reached the counter and swallowed that cheese in one gulp.
A vacation deep in the center of France, amidst the mountains and greenery. An enfant sauvage found generations ago living in the forest, raised by wolves, forever captured and immortalized in bronze. Caves deep below the earth, below the roaming sheep, damp and chilly, aromatic with mildew, corridors deep in the belly of the earth like secret passageways. Tremendous rounds of cheese lined up on wooden benches telling the tale of the passage of time. A taste of Roquefort, a deep blue-green against creamy white, salty and smooth, delicate and fluid, sharp and memorable.
ILVA'S THIN PARMESAN SHORTBREADS WITH OREGANO
150 g/ 4.5 oz wholewheat flour
80 g/ 2.8 oz grated parmesan
1 tsp dried oregano
100 g/ 3.5 oz butter
1 egg yolk
a pinch of salt
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Rub the butter into the flour and add the egg yolk. Mix quickly until the ingredients are well blended.
Roll out the dough thinly, the easiest way to do it is between two sheets of parchment paper, and cut out the shortbread with a cookie cutter or with a knife.
Bake in a pre-heated oven (175°C/350°F) for 8-10 minutes. Let them cool down before handling.