"A Passion for Cheese," Paul Gayler

Pros: Elegant, delicious recipes
Cons: Where the heck do I find some of these cheeses?
Rating: 4 out of 5

First published 3/9/2001

Let’s be honest – it’s hard not to like cheese. From mac and cheese, to lasagna, to pizza, to cheese fondue, it’s such an all-purpose ingredient. Almost everyone has at least one cheese they’re fond of, whether it’s mozzarella, a sharp white cheddar, Gouda or feta. There are the “processed” cheeses for easy melting. There are new sheeps-milk cheeses (if you ever have the chance to get your hands on sheeps-milk camembert, pay the high price! It’s worth it!). There’s mascarpone, which you’ll find in that marvelous dessert, tiramisu. More unique and interesting cheeses are made available every day, and we’re finding new and interesting ways in which to use them.

This presents quite the range of possibilities to work with! So how does this cookbook measure up?

Elegance, Quick Recipes and Weird Cheeses

These are some very elegant recipes, in general. They were obviously chosen and designed with presentation as well as taste in mind. This does mean that some of them may be a little more work than your average home cook wants to deal with. Many of them, however, are surprisingly simple.

Take this one for example: Tagliatelle with Fried Egg, Capers & Pecorino Sardo. You cook the pasta and toss it with a few very simple ingredients. You top with a couple of fried eggs and some shavings of cheese. The fifteen-minute, delicious, elegant dinner!

Mind you, I couldn’t actually find pecorino sardo cheese anywhere, but shredded romano works deliciously well in its place. The foreword will tell you that part of the reason for the creation of this cookbook is to convince people to overcome their fear of cooking with unusual cheeses. The recipes include suggestions for alternate cheeses when the author thinks a cheese is not widely available, but I would have preferred a few more suggestions. His idea of easy-to-find and mine don’t always match. Substituting romano for the pecorino sardo in the above recipe was a lucky guess – the recipe provided no suggestions.

As a side note: the index is reasonably thorough but not perfect. I couldn’t find this recipe under “capers,” but I did find it under “eggs.”

More about Cheese

There’s some neat stuff for the cheese-lover in here. There’s a section on how cheese is made, including information on things like pasteurization, and what sorts of things affect the flavor of a cheese. There’s a brief section on choosing and storing cheese. There’s individualized info on hard and semi-hard cheeses, soft and semi-soft ripened cheeses, soft fresh cheeses, “pasta filata” (“spun paste”) cheeses (this includes mozzarella), goat cheeses, and blue cheeses. By noting which varieties fall together, you may at least be able to pick a near-cousin when substituting for some cheeses.

There’s a section called “the cheeseboard” that gives a few tips on how to put together a plate of cheeses that will please your guests’ palates. There’s a guide to when many cheeses are at their seasonal peak, and a section on serving wine with cheese. There are hints on cooking with cheese, info on cheese and your health, and a list of nutritional values of popular cheeses.

The Recipes

There’s a section of basics, including various types of stocks. This was probably unnecessary as anyone tackling this cookbook probably has both prior kitchen experience as well as cookbooks already dedicated to such things. But, they are useful. This section also includes some basic cheese sauces and cheese butters (yum!), pesto, vinaigrette, mayonnaise, pastry doughs and breads. Some of these are cheese recipes while others are meant to be used with cheese or in cheese recipes.

Next come the first courses. I’ll take a moment to mention that the layout is quite nice: spaced out well, with the ingredients to the side and easy to find, taking up just a single page of instructions. Here you’ll find things like Glazed Oysters on Crushed Potatoes with Parsley & Maytag Blue, Parmesan Brioche Toast with Taleggio, Sauteed Plum Tomatoes & Oregano, and our favorite: Ratatouille-Stuffed Mozzarella Wrapped In Prosciutto. This is a delightful little morsel… Oh, who am I kidding? I’m pretty much going to tell you that anything with prosciutto in it is delightful. I’m addicted, I tell you, addicted!

Ahem. Yes, well.

Moving right along to the Pear, Roquefort Blue & Rosemary Galettes, you can immediately see that there are some very original and unusual recipes in here. You’ll even find a few useful hints. For instance, this recipe says that the galettes can be prepared the night before and baked at the last minute.

And don’t forget about the Baked Reblochon in Savoy Cabbage! This is visually one of the more stunning recipes I’ve seen. (There are some gorgeous full-color photos in here.) Unfortunately, the author’s suggestions for alternate cheeses in this case are all unusual cheeses that I have trouble finding, so they don’t do a whole heck of a lot of good.

We gave a try at the Melting Camembert Fritters on Gooseberry & Green Peppercorn Chutney. Of course we couldn’t find gooseberries, but mango chutney substituted just fine. We couldn’t make the cooked-and-cooled camembert mixture stiff enough to actually bread and fry it. If this happens to you, just add some half-and-half, milk, or cream, and turn it into a fondue. Dip bits of andouille sausage or kielbasa in it and serve – this is the important part – with the mango chutney. YUM! (This is another recipe whose “alternate cheeses” all bear names I don’t recognize in the least, but at least camembert is relatively common.)

Then there are the soups. The Potato & Wisconsin Cheddar Soup sounds good, as does the Zuppa Pavese, and the Tomato Gazpacho with Cabecou-Stuffed Tomatoes. The Lobster & Vermont Cheddar Bisque is fabulous! The cheddar really sends the rich flavor over the top.

Salads include another one of our favorites: Spinach, Blue Cheese & Avocado Salad with Pumpkin Seeds. Add a few slices of cooked & crumbled bacon for an even more decadent flavor. Then move on to the Crab & Asparagus Salad with Lemon, Mustard & Parmesan Vinaigrette, Salad of Grilled Lamb Fillet with St. Agur & Warm Mint Dressing, or the Chili-Pickled Orange, Feta & Olive Salad.

There are pastas, pizzas (Oyster & Spinach Pizza with Chorizo Sausage & Melting Dolcelatte!), main dishes (Parmesan-Crusted Sea Bass with Thyme-Grilled Vegetables; Gratin of Lobster with Parmesan & Tarragon Sauce; Quails Stuffed with Sage Derby & Muscat Grapes), and vegetable dishes (Soft Gorgonzola Polenta with Young Spinach & Wild Mushrooms).

And yes, oh yes, there are desserts. Sambuca-Flamed Ricotta with Chilled Summer Berries. Rhubarb in Chilled Punch Syrup with Cheese Sorbet. A frozen tiramisu-like delicacy that is nothing short of delightful, and is served with a Grand Marnier-laced orange sauce. Personally, I can’t wait to try the Brie Ice Cream with Dates, Walnuts & Butterscotch Sauce.

Is It Worth It?

Oh goodness yes! All right, so it calls for weird cheeses and doesn’t always suggest good substitutes. It uses other things you might not be able to find too. But there are tons of recipes in here, most of which are easy, quick, and surprisingly impressive given the lack of effort they require. I might not recommend this to the beginning cook just because it looks like a lot of work, but anyone with experience will be able to make most of these dishes. And oh yes, it’s worth it. It is worth it indeed!


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