by Kate Heyhoe
Anyone who has traveled through Europe knows you can pretty much exist on bread and cheese—and never once complain. Thousands of European cheeses come in squares, rounds, stars, balls, cones, pyramids, bricks, wheels and even animal shapes, like the smoky Italian scamorza pigs. France alone produces some 650 cheeses, enough to sample a new one every day for more than a year.
The simple pairing of a rustic bread with a well-made cheese can be the basis of a sublime meal. Add sliced, perfectly ripe tomatoes, a smear of horseradish, or a drizzle of olive oil and fresh herbs and the flavors further evolve. Just when you thought you were in heaven, the angels whirl you even higher into the clouds.
In the U.S., supermarkets carry various brands of cheese spreads for use on crackers and breads. Spreads like American-made Boursin and Alouette fill a busy-person's need for convenience foods, but they're never quite as good as their European counterparts, or as good as a homemade spread.
Fortunately, cheese spreads are ridiculously easy to make, and just as foolproof. Start with a soft style of cheese, whip and thin it as needed, mix in other cheeses if desired, and season it with contrasting or piquant tastes. The variety of flavors is endless, both in the basic cheese you select and in the flavors you can add. Feta, blue-veined, and goat cheeses pack plenty of flavor and are especially well-suited to cheese spreads.
Homemade cheese spread recipes are particularly handy this time of year. As spring rolls into summer, easy, outdoor noshing takes precedence over indoor dining. For picnics, pool parties or lunchbox meals, these spreads mean you don't have to settle for boring sandwiches or snacks. And as meatless meals, these spreadable cheeses on rustic breads make a refreshing change from summertime's barbecued slabs of ribs and sides of beef.
Use these recipes as starter points on which to develop your own custom-cheese spreads. Mix in fresh herbs, different types of toasted spices like cumin or fennel seeds, or for adults, add a touch of alcohol, such as vodka (an excellent complement to black pepper).
A final note for sandwich makers: the bread you select can change the flavor entirely. For variety, try the same spread on a French baguette, a slice of Jewish rye, a San Francisco sourdough, a Middle Eastern flatbread or a nutty whole wheat. Each bite will be like a gastronomic trip around the world.
Copyright © 2003, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created June 2003
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