November 08, 2005
Fine Cheese Can Be Quite Lowbrow
Posted by geoffrey manne

As a guest here, I know to be respectful of my hosts. And I mean to be – I am. So I don’t want you to think I’m being cheeky with this post. I’m not. I’m being quite serious.

Fine cheese. Like Gordon, I have a penchant for it. Why just the other day at the Portland Farmer’s Market I bought a delectable artisan lavender farmer’s cheese. It’s the sort of cheese Gordon would blog about. It’s a little like this one.

But should the highbrow cheeses really get all the attention? Some may be loath to admit it, but there’s some real quality in the lowbrow stuff, too. And, as it turns out, I can be quite lowbrow.

Take, for instance, port wine cold pack cheese food.

It’s delicious stuff. Really. Spread it on a Wheat Thin (a low-brow cracker, of course) and savor the piquant, creamy flavor. Or slather it on a crusty baguette and pretend it’s cheap-wine-soaked camembert. Whatever gets you over that initial revulsion.  Sure, it may come in a plastic tub. It may merit its own CFR entry distinguishing it from actual “cheese.” It may be Day-glo orange and pink. But it’s delicious nonetheless.

And there’s some incredible, lowbrow cheese-related foods that shouldn’t be neglected. We all know about Philly cheesesteaks and other lowbrow cheese-related sandwiches, but have you tried poutine? It’s – now stick with me here – french fries, covered with cheese curds, and topped with gravy. It’s a Quebecois delicacy, and, perhaps, "Canada’s most pervasive contribution to world cuisine" (whatever that means). It's so good, it's easily worth the 3 months each order takes off your life. Even without the fries and gravy (but with the addition of a little beer batter and oil) deep fried cheese curds may be the very apotheosis—the eidos, if you will—of low-brow, cheese-related cuisine.

(On a related note, this seems like a good time to mention that Montreal may be home to the most wonderful collection of junk food in the world.  In addition to poutine, there's smoked meat sandwiches, May Wests, and the Wilensky's special, each a stand-out in it's class).

I could go on. Suffice it to say fine cuisine is not necessarily haute cuisine.

UPDATE:  My friend Dave points out that I neglected to pair the appropriate wine with my recommendation.  He corrects the oversight.

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Comments (14)

1. Posted by Gordon Smith on November 8, 2005 @ 19:40 | Permalink

I can't each cheesesteaks with Cheese Whiz, and I don't eat "cheese food," whatever that is. But I like real cheese spead. Cheese curds are tasty, too (especially when fresh). I have never tried poutine, but now I have a reason to visit Montreal!

2. Posted by Joe Miller on November 8, 2005 @ 20:43 | Permalink

"Whatever gets you over that initial revulsion," indeed! In a (compound) word: Hi-larious!

3. Posted by Dave! on November 8, 2005 @ 21:45 | Permalink

Actually, Kaukauna seems appropriate for Conglomerate... it was originally a Wisconsin cheese, the first "crock" cheese, if I recall... and now the brand is owned by a French *Conglomerate*! :)

4. Posted by Scott Moss on November 9, 2005 @ 6:17 | Permalink

One day, eating a bag of Combos (the stubby, cylindrical pretzels filled with "cheese"), I decided to take one piece and eat away all the pretzel to see what the remaining wad of cheese would taste like. After that taste of the solo cheese filling, I don't think I finished that bag of Combos....

5. Posted by PaulNoonan on November 9, 2005 @ 9:35 | Permalink

The greatest cheese spread in the world is produced just outside of Madison in Praire du Sac at the Wollersheim Winery:

I believe my favorite is the Praire Fume spread, but all varieties are superior. It's also a fun little day trip if you're around Madison (or even Milwaukee). Very picturesque.

As for fried cheese curds, Saz's Mozzarella Marinara is pretty good. As a Wisconsinite, it pains me to say this, but the best fried cheese curds I've ever had were at the Minnesota State Fair.

If you want to make your own, here's a recipe:

Get some wonton wrappers, string cheese and vegetable or canola oil. Canola is best. Cut the cheese into thirds and wrap the pieces in the wonton wrappers burrito style.

Poor the oil into a skillet. It should be a bout 3/4 of an inch deep. Note that you will probably get a little bit burned, but it's worth it. Also, have the lid ready in case you have a grease fire.

Heat the oil on low/medium heat until it is ready for frying. To test, simply dunk one of the cheese nuggets into the skillet, and if it crackles, it's ready. Place the wrapped cheese, with the folded end down to keep it sealed, into the skillet. Fry until golden brown. Don't worry if a few explode, those are really tasty.

Remove the cheese with tongs and serve immediately with warm marinara sauce. This is an excellent compliment to the brat recipe, but it's good any time.

6. Posted by David Zaring on November 9, 2005 @ 9:41 | Permalink

It reminds me that one of my favorite spready products is boursin-with-herbs. Available at any not-so-fine supermarket. Sure, every other cheese I consume has been aged in ash or leaves, and in caves, but boursin is still great.

And another testament to the fineness of not so haut cuisine is the tacqueria.

7. Posted by Seth Weinberger on November 9, 2005 @ 10:52 | Permalink

C'mon Geoff...are you really claiming that Montreal trumps Chicago as the Paris of junk food? Steak burrito? Ricobenes? Al's Italian Beef and water ice? Gold Coast Dogs? And of course, Giordanos. No comparison!!!

8. Posted by geoff manne on November 9, 2005 @ 11:05 | Permalink

Gordon: I'm with you on the cheese spreads: The Black Diamond (also a Canadian company, I believe) sharp cheddar cheese spread (which also comes in a plastic tub) is another of my lowbrow cheese favorites.

PaulNoonan: Fried "cheese curds" made with string cheese is not fried cheese curds. The food may be lowbrow, but it still pays to have standards. Cheese curds must be young, they must be fresh. Hard mozarella wrapped in plastic and sitting on the shelf for 3 weeks doesn't qualify.

David: The tacqueria, absolutely. To say nothing of the taco truck -- as a class probably the most gloriously inconsistent purveyors of fine lowbrow food in the country.

Seth: Point taken. No city beats Chicago for the fineness of its native junk food (although GCD ain't what it used to be).

9. Posted by PaulNoonan on November 9, 2005 @ 11:21 | Permalink


That's my personal recipe, and I'll gladly put it up to the test kitchen challenge.

Cheese curds must be young and fresh. And, of course, they must squeak.

Fried cheese curds, on the other hand, need not be. Why not just say that we should make Buffalo Wings with the finest cuts of chicken breast? That is simply not the point. Frying fixes everything. I've tried cheddar, fresh mozzarella (the kind that comes in a packet with water, as well as the kind that comes in a block), blue cheese, (Experiment. Not recommended.) and many others. String cheese is the easisest to work with, and produces a quality final product. Less exploding, retains it shape better, melts just right. It's like it was made for frying.

Don't knock it 'til you've tried it.

And you're right, GCD isn't what what it used to be.

10. Posted by geoff manne on November 9, 2005 @ 11:28 | Permalink

I think our disagreement may be semantic. I would never knock "fried cheese." And mozarella is, indeed, the perfect frying cheese. But it isn't "fried cheese curds." And, to me at least, there is a difference in taste and texture (even after they are fried) that elevates the fried curd over the fried cheese. But both are delicious, of course.

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