Say Cheese!

So I’ve noticed a pattern with myself lately. After reading a couple books about tomatoes, I ordered some seeds online and planted a tomato garden in my backyard. Then I read some books about oven construction and thermodynamics only to readjust the heat strategy in my home oven (I’ll explain that in a future post). Well last week I was trying to figure out what book to read (just finished Jane Ziegelman’s 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families) when something magical happened. Immortal Milk by Eric LeMay arrived in my mailbox to answer my pizza-related reading needs.

Eric was on a pizza tour last month but he kept silent during all of our discussions about cheese. He’s an incredibly smart guy to keep his true identity a secret because I would have assaulted him with questions for the bulk of the tour had I known. Instead, he waited until the conclusion of the tour before he casually mentioned “I had a really great time. Oh, and I just wrote a book about cheese. I’ll have to send it to you.” And send it he did.

I have a few cheese guides and books about cheese history but Immortal Milk falls into an entirely different category. It’s a memoir of personal discovery through cheese. Eric begins the book with a comparison of the words “expert” and “enthusiast.” I was sold from the start because, like Eric, I am lulled to sleep by experts who merely site facts and figures without mention of context or personal involvement. His book chronicles trips to cheese shops around the globe in search of significant cheeses.

The book weaves travel stories with in-depth research about all things cheese - including a terrific chapter about why we call things “cheesy.” Eric’s humor is right up my alley, so I had a lot of fun reading his milky musings. He also brings in the experiences of his travel partner and wife “Chuck,” whose final chapter recommends pairings that compliment particular types of cheese discussed throughout the book.

Two amazing things happened after I read Immortal Milk. First, I found myself in Choice Greene, an incredible specialty food shop in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. They have a great selection of cured meats and quality cheeses, so I poked around and found a couple cheeses I had never tried before but were mentioned throughout the book. I finally tasted Comte, a French cow’s milk cheese that carries AOC protection (same thing as Italy’s DOP certification). It’s so creamy and mild, I’m surprised I haven’t tasted this on a pizza. Comte has an extremely versatile flavor, although not incredibly exciting on its own. I bet it would be nice on a pie with pear and walnuts! Choice Greene also has Parmigiano Reggiano and fresh mozzarella if you’re looking for standard pizza fare.

The second incredible cheese discovery happened at Pizza A Casa, the Lower East Side’s incredible pizza school. Owner Mark Bello had recently returned from the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center and he was showing me some mozzarella making kits he found at one of the booths. This is exactly what I was looking for, as Eric’s book made my brain-gears spin into motion about how cheeses all start out as milk but end up as any one of thousands of flavors. So I took the mozz kit home and went to work.

The kit has everything you need to make fresh mozzarella except for a gallon of milk and the entire process takes only 45 minutes. I learned a lot by making a batch of cheese but it made me think about how many simple homemade foods have become gourmet rarities. Mozzarella is a cheese intended for home preparation and home consumption, so it only shows how the tables have turned when this simple process becomes a novelty.

Visit Pizza A Casa for your own mozzarella making kit or for classes on home pizza making.