|Thanks, public domain.|
I should mention here that thirteen years ago I interviewed Sue Conley and Peggy Smith (the Cowgirls) for a story I wrote to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of Chez Panisse and celebrate its legacy. It was a miserable story to report because Alice Waters was icy and her assistant an unspeakable expletive and although I believe Waters has been a powerful force for good in the world, I can’t see a picture of her without rolling my eyes.
But you know who was great? Sue Conley. Peggy Smith wasn’t not-great, but she told me a few stories about Chez Panisse and then had to go somewhere. Conley, though, sat and talked to me on a patch of grass by the old Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market and patiently explained how the flavors of milk change seasonally if you buy from small, local dairies like Straus in Marin County. Because they let their cows graze on wild pasture, the milk is grassy one month, floral the next. Big producers, on the other hand, feed their cattle a bland diet to ensure the product always tastes the same. She convinced me to start buying Straus milk which I have done sporadically (it’s expensive) ever since. It’s beautiful milk, unhomogenized so the cream rises to the top, and it comes in bottles that you send back to be re-used, which is more efficient than recycling plastic. Also, organic, local, better for the cows, etc.
Yesterday I read the milk section of Cowgirl Creamery Cooks and remembered that pleasant conversation because the book lays out the facts in pretty much the way Conley did back in 2001. If you read it you’ll understand why a person might pay extra for milk from producers like Straus. I need to get Mark to read it.
I made recipe #2 from Cowgirl Creamery Cooks last night: Kate’s grilley: stilton and cheshire on walnut bread. “Grilley” is what the Cowgirls’ former colleague, an Englishwoman, called a grilled cheese sandwich. I hope it doesn’t catch on. To make this sandwich you combine fromage blanc, crumbled Stilton, and grated fontina (or another cheese of similar texture) in a bowl, spread the mixture on walnut bread, and cook in skillet.
Everyone in the family liked these sandwiches except me. The cheese did not so much melt as liquefy and it was everywhere and nowhere at once. It lost all body and seeped into the bread and onto the frying pan and while you could smell it and taste it, you couldn’t find it. Do you know what I mean? Has this ever happened to you with super-soft cheeses? Is this how the sandwiches are supposed to be? Did I do something wrong? I don’t know. No one else minded. What they minded was the walnut bread. That was the only part I liked.
But here’s my question: Is calling for fromage blanc in grilled cheese sandwiches -- even your most basic grilled cheese sandwiches -- a food professional-home cook disconnect? My gut feeling is yes, but I could be persuaded otherwise.