WHATEVER ITS AGE, CHEDDAR IS WORTH SAVORING
One afternoon in early February, I found a small package with a Wisconsin
return address on my front porch.
This struck me as a bit strange because I'd just been talking with a
friend, Colleen McGlynn of DaVero Olive Oil and Supper in Healdsburg, about
Carr Valley Cheese in La Valle, Wis., which was just where the box was from.
McGlynn knows of the cheese company because she grew up on a farm a couple
of miles from La Valle, but she had nothing to do with the appearance of the
box on my porch.
Call it meaningful coincidence.
Inside the box was a block of 10-year-old cheddar, sent to me as a gift
from a friend who thought I might enjoy it. He loves it so much he's become a
bit of a proselytizer.
With one bite, it is easy to understand why.
The cheese has the rich earthy quality we associate with cheddar but it is
a bit dryer than younger cheddars and has delightful little crystals, like we
might find in an old Parmigiano-Reggiano. These crystals are surprising,
delicious and addictive.
If the cheese is 10 years old, I kept thinking to myself as I headed toward
the kitchen for yet another nibble, surely I can make it last 10 days.
No such luck.
The cheese was but a memory after three or four days and before long I
found myself at www.carrvalleycheese.com.
Carr Valley Cheese currently is in the hands of Sid Cook, a
fourth-generation cheesemaker who spent 15 years completing advanced training
and education before taking over the family business.
Carr Valley offers a variety of cheddars, from fresh curds made daily and
day-old cheddar to baby cheddar, aged 45 days, and cheddars aged for three
months, one year, two years, three years, four years, five years, six years,
eight years and 10 years. There's applewood-smoked cheddar, cave-aged cheddar
and cheddar to which beer has been added.
The curds make for delicious nibbling and the young cheddars are perfect
for cooking. The oldest ones are best savored neat, at room temperature.
My new shipment of cheese has arrived just in time for St. Patrick's Day, a
day when I'm about as traditional as you can get, in spite of the fact that my
mother paid no attention to the holiday. She was Russian and with my Irish
father long in his grave, she made no effort to observe his holiday. I was an
adult before I ate my first corned beef and cabbage.
Now and then I opt for Irish stew and colcannon instead of corned beef, but
that's about as far afield as I've ventured, though this year I'll be
exploring possibilities suggested by the delicious cheese. But probably as a
first course or side dish.
Although this traditional cheese dish is most frequently referred to as
''rarebit,'' its proper name is rabbit. Rarebit is thought to be an
alteration, likely an unintentional one, of the original word. The variations
at the end of the recipe reflect traditions in England, Scotland and Wales. I
would not use an 8- or 10-year-old cheddar in this dish, as much of the joy of
cheese that has been aged for such a time is its texture, which is lost as the
cheese melts. Instead, I would use either an Irish cheddar or one of Carr
Valley's younger cheddars.
Classic Cheese Rabbit
Makes 4 servings
8 ounces cheddar cheese, preferably Irish
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard flour, such as Colman's
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup ale, preferably Irish, such as Smithwick's or Harp's
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
-- Toast points from 8 slices of bread
Put the cheese, butter, salt, mustard and paprika in the top of a double
boiler set over slowly simmered water until the cheese is melted. Slowly stir
in the ale, the egg and the Worcestershire sauce and stir until the mixture
Arrange toast points on individual plates, pour the mixture over and serve
* You can serve the rabbit with cooked vegetables such as broccoli,
potatoes, asparagus, carrots and parsnips, hard-boiled eggs, sliced apples or
roasted ham instead of toast points if you prefer.
* Top each serving with a poached egg.
* Top each serving with a poached egg and fried crumbled bacon.
* Top each serving with minced yellow onions, gherkins and fresh herbs and
pass a good-quality white wine vinegar alongside.
Traditional colcannon is a mixture of potatoes, bacon, cabbage, butter,
onions and cream, all mashed together coarsely. This contemporary version,
adapted from a recipe in ''The Irish Heritage Cookbook'' by Margaret Johnson
(Chronicle Books, 1999, $18.95), is from chefs Paul and Jeanne Rankin of
Roscoff in Belfast. Served with a green salad alongside, it makes a delicious
and satisfying lunch or dinner.
Colcannon Torte with Cheddar Cheese
Makes 6 to 8 servings
-- Kosher salt