My grandfather grew up on a small farm in rural Illinois. He was the town butcher before moving to St. Louis
to make shoes. (This was way back in the days when St. Louis was “first in booze, shoes and blues.”) It was his job to bring home the food and my grandmother’s job to pretty much spend the entire day preparing it. We lived only a couple of blocks away from them and as a kid I made it a point to be within earshot just about suppertime when my grandmother would open up the kitchen window and call out my name. The dining room table was always filled to overflowing and the meal was always topped off with some kind of homemade dessert. Sometimes my grandfather would bring home food that you just don’t seem to see around anymore. He liked to hunt and fish, so there was squirrel and rabbit, catfish and bass, and sometimes even trout. My grandmother made a delicious oxtail soup using the real tail, cooked until all of the marrow leaked out of the bone and flavored the soup. There was headcheese and blood sausage and the occasional brain sandwich. It’s enough to turn the head of anyone who’s grown up on a diet of McDonald’s
cheeseburgers and fries. There was also mincemeat and rhubarb pie, something you don’t see much of nowadays. How about a second helping of the turtle soup?
Sometimes my friends and I would stop in between meals to check out the well-stocked refrigerator to get a cold Whistle orange soda, an RC cola, or maybe even a Dad’s root beer. Hidden way back in the corner of the ‘fridge was a small foil-wrapped square of Limburger cheese. I would sneak it out while my friends were standing next to me, carefully unwrap it, and let them get a good whiff of it. This usually resulted in us running outside, soda bottles in hand, with out fingers clamped firmly over our noses.
Cheese is one of the most varied foods on the planet. It varies from very hard to extremely runny, from an almost indiscernible flavor to the stink of the aforementioned Limburger. As far back as 6000 BC, cheese was made from cow and goat’s milk and stored in tall jars. One legend says that an unknown Arab nomad discovered cheese. He is said to have filled one of his saddlebags with milk to sustain him on his journey. After some time he stopped to quench his thirst only to find that the milk had separated into a pale watery liquid and solid white lumps. Because the saddlebag was made from the stomach of an animal and contained rennin, the combination of the enzyme, the hot sun, and the motion of the horse effectively made the cheese. The nomad found that the whey was drinkable and the curds edible.
There are hundreds of varieties of cheese produced in the world. Generally, there are four basic categories: Soft cheese like Brie, Cream Cheese, and Mascarpone, Semi-hard cheese like Blue and Monterey Jack. Hard cheese like cheddar and Colby and very hard cheese like Parmesan and Romano. You don’t have to live in Wisconsin to be a cheese head. Here are a few of the best places to buy cheese in the St. Louis area:
The Wine Merchant 20 S. Hanley Rd. (314) 863-6282.You won’t find any “Swiss” cheese or Provel “Goo From The Lou” cheese here. The only cheddar will be white. Here you CAN find fromages from small American farms and almost every country in Europe. They even have cheese that’s been aged in caves here. Check out the cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy in Great Britain. The staff here is very knowledgeable and is quite willing to recommend a cheese for every palate and a good wine to go with it.
The Wine And Cheese Place (Three locations, the best is in downtown Clayton-(314) 863-6282) Since 1982, The Wine and Cheese Place has offered the finest wines, spirits, cheese, and specialty foods from around the world. They have a selection of over 1600 wines and 250 cheeses. Some of the choices include Stilton, Gloucester, mozzarella, goat cheese in a variety of flavors, plus soft and spread able cheeses like Brie and Camembert. Sampling is encouraged, all you have to do is ask.
Grapevine Wines 309 S. Kirkwood (314) 909-7044. Grapevine wines has a selection of over 1000 wines and over 100 cheeses. They are located in the heart of the historic district of downtown Kirkwood. They also have a large selection of single malt Scotch, gourmet foods from around the world, and an assortment of wine accessories.
By the way, Limburger cheese is a Belgian cow’s milk cheese named for Limburg province in Belgium where it was first sold. One good thing: the distinctive taste is not nearly as strong as the odor. Once you get it past your nose, it’s not so bad!