Thursday, September 21, 2006

Thinking Globally, Didn't Act Locally

Isn’t that what they always say you should do? Think globally, act locally? That’s what I should have done. Dream globally, accept locally might have worked as well. But it was the daydream globally, try to buy globally that got me into a mess.

In Holland, specifically Amsterdam, you can wander the canal-lined streets and find, among other things, wonderful cheese shops.

Very old buildings with tiny doorways, packed floor to ceiling with huge wheels of cheese and gigantic wedges cut there from. A pungent aroma fills the room. Throngs of people are packed into the tight walkways between these teetering stacks of cheese, forcing you to stop frequently and simply breathe in the pungent aromas. You can practically taste it as you inhale.

Unexpectedly helpful people are eager to cut you a thin slice of cheese after cheese. Unexpected maybe because it seems rare, outside Holland and Switzerland, to find such a level of enthusiasm, such a passion, over cheese.

But this is not just cheese. This is beyond cheese. This is simple, everyday milk turned into art. Gouda being maybe the most prolific of the different sorts.

The offerings range from the very fresh, soft, pale yellow of the youngest, to the deep, firm yellow of the middle aged, to the bright orange of the brittle and crumbly old aged cheese. The super old aged Gouda is often so brittle that it is not really possible to cut a slice. It resembles more a rocky cliff, rife with huge cracks, piles of rubble lying at the base where they have broken away and fallen off.

The flavors cover the range from a relative buttery, creamy barely perceptible taste to the bold, very sharp tang of the super aged ones. I favor the older, aged cheeses. They have a flavor that makes it clear why cheeses are so revered in some countries.

Mixed amongst the Goudas are the colorful rinds of Leeredamers, and Edams, and Leidenkaas, and Freisekaas. Also smoked Gouda. Something a bit different. I’m not really sure if this is a classic way to prepare the cheese, or something dreamed up to ensnare the tourists.

Well, I guess I had that image in my mind when my eye caught a recipe that called for smoked Gouda (or smoked mozzarella, but I didn’t dwell on that).

I found the cheese recipe while looking for a way to serve either barley or wheat berries. Don’t ask. Well, OK, ask. TeenGirl has read that wheat berries, and barley for that matter, are particularly healthful. Plus they are low glycemic index carbohydrates. Every day is a chemistry lesson here nowadays. If she doesn’t ace her chemistry class this year, I’m gonna make that teacher spend a week eating with us. She’ll learn a few new things about food chemistry. Whether she wants to or not!

The recipe I found is basically a salad combining cooked barley and wheat berries with some veggies. I figured I would get mega bonus points for getting both grains onto a single recipe. But what caught my eye was the smoked Gouda.

Now, I know that getting real aged Gouda, deep orange, almost red, sharp, pungent and brittle, in not possible in the US. Like smoking hash in public, this is reserved exclusively for the Dutch.

But, I was pretty sure I had seen smoked Gouda. Again, I was fixated on the authentic cheese from Holland. And I did in fact find a product called smoked Gouda. With a label indicating its origin was Holland. Despite my apprehension, I went for it.

The salad itself is fairly easy to make. Aside from boiling the grains, it is just a matter of combining the grains with vegetables, and a dressing based on balsamic vinegar, garlic and shallots. The smoked cheese was supposed to add a significant flavor component.

The basic salad was nice. As expected, the balsamic did indeed carry the day. With a parsley salad and a few grilled sausages (chicken, of course!) on the side, it made for a very flavorful, and healthy, meal.

But the cheese disappointed. Plastic in texture and artificial in taste. I guess I should have expected that.

In retrospect, after watching everyone pick out the cheese pieces from the salad, I should have gone with a home grown substitute. Something more local, made with real knowledge and love for cheese, maybe something from the Cowgirl Creamery, or Three Sisters Cheese, or Point Reyes Farmstead Cheeses, or Fiscalini Farmstead Cheeses, or Fagundes Old World Cheese.

Which are all California artisan style cheese makers. Local, so to speak.

But awfully hard to find. Apparently we live in the Velveeta and Kraft slices capital of California.

None the less, I’ll look a little harder next time. And encourage any who want to make the recipe to substitute a local, strong flavored artisan cheese, ideally something aged, for the smoked Gouda called for in this recipe.

Barley and Wheat Berry Salad with Parsley
Recipe adapted from Epicurious by surfindaave
Serves 4

1 cup wheat berries
1 cup pearl barley
1 small red onion, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced and mashed to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
1 shallot, minced
1 medium zucchini, grated
1/2 pound aged or smoked artisan cheese
6-8 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives
Parsley Salad as an accompaniment if desired (recipe follows)

Into a kettle of salted boiling water stir wheat berries and cook at a slow boil 30 minutes. Stir in barley and cook grains at a slow boil 40 minutes.

While grains are cooking, in a large bowl stir together onion, garlic paste, vinegar, and oil. Drain grains well and add to onion mixture.

Toss mixture well and cool. Add shallots, zucchini, cheese, tomatoes, chives, and salt and pepper to taste and toss well. Salad may be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring salad to room temperature before serving. Serve salad with parsley salad.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Parsley Salad as an accompaniment if desired (recipe follows)?

8:56 AM  

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