Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cheese FAIL!

I've become quite a cheese addict -- and have devoted a large part of the last year or so learning everything I can about my favorite food. Admittedly, I have a lot yet to learn.

Last night, we had dinner with some friends. They were kind enough to prepare a meal for us (Herself has been way too busy prepping for an Oscar party to cook this time). We offered to bring some wine, and I of course, sprang at the opportunity to bring along some cheese as well. We packed some walnuts and dried apricots, and I was looking forward to our cheese course post-dinner.

The cheese in question was a Camembert, of a pedigree I can't precisely recall, but purchased in a fit of cheese-buying the last time our favorite French food importers opened their doors to the public. We ate our way through a couple of buttons of unctuous Epoisses, eventually devoured a mellow wheel of Brillat-Savarin, and scarfed down at least two small discs of Langres. The 'routine'-seeming Camembert remained in our wine fridge, untouched and ripening.

But last night, as I reached for the knife to serve our hosts the first wedge, I noticed something was wrong. That wonderful white bloom common to soft-ripened cheeses was dulled with striations of red and gold. The surface of the cheese cracked as the knife pierced it. and the paste was dark and runny. Not immediate disaster but...

...the faint ammonia whiff of cheese-past-its-prime wafted up from the serving board. Oh no.

I am not afraid of stinky cheese. I am not afraid of cheese that has aged to the color of old parchment and is more goo than solid. I am not unused to the mild ammonia odors that a really fragrant cheese like Banon or an aged Blue can contain. But alas, we'd let this Camembert ripen far too long.

I was mortified, as we'd been telling our hosts how much we loved cheese, and had they had, in turn, regaled us with their wonderful cheese experiences on a recent trip to Argentina. But here I was about to serve them something I wasn't sure was fit to eat. I gamely cut everyone a wedge, and sprinkled some of the walnuts and apricots alongside. The paste was truly lovely to look at, and on my first bite, my fears that it had become inedible were eased. But the second bite, not so much.

Our hosts were very gracious and we moved on with our evening, the cheese barely a speed bump. While I was embarrassed that I hadn't checked the Camembert before serving it to friends, I was also fascinated by the natural processes that had claimed our cheese. First hand, I'd witnessed how a soft-ripened cheese ages, and now have a better idea of what to expect next time.

If the label says "best by mid-January", it does not mean "still okay by mid-February." The education continues...


Hungry Passport said...

I don't mind that we lost money on that one. Sometimes you have to pay for your education. And we know from examining that past-its-prime camemblech what happens when good cheese goes bad.

Morgue said...

"I think it's a bit runnier than you'd like, sir."

Chuck said...

"I don't care how fucking runny it is, hand it over with all speed!"