A meal without some cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye
Cook the Books is a bi-monthly cooking and reading event founded by Rachel at Crispy Cook, Deb at Kahakai Kitchen and moi. Being the host of this term I chose French Lessons, Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew, by famous writer Peter Mayle, a book dedicated to French food festivals.
I picked my copy of the book at a lovely second hand bookstore in Amsterdam specializing in cookbooks, called Books for Cooks (Kast 1 en 2, Oudemanhuispoort, 1012 CN Amsterdam, tel 0651768845) and immediately fell in love with it. This was not just a book about food. It was a book about a nation’s attitude towards local produce in general. As I read and read, I wanted to be part of all these festivities. I wanted to taste fresh truffles, try frogs legs, eat a whole Bresse chicken, savour snails, participate in the Burgundy auction and even run the Marathon (du Medoc) just to taste the wines.
Most of all, however, I wanted to try Livarot, the cheese Mayle dedicates a whole chapter to (“Love at first sniff”). There he describes the Livarot cheese festival that ends in an eating competition (the grands mangeurs). The winner would have to consume about 2 kilos of cheese within the allotted time (15 minutes) and before his/her opponents, washed down with copious amounts of cider, another famous product of Normandy. The idea of eating so much cheese in one go did make my stomach churn a little bit, but the whole Livarot cheese business left me yearning for more.
Time flew and I was having a very hard time deciding what to make for Cook the Books. About two days ago chance drove me to a French supermarket chain in search for some hard-to-find ingredients. I get seriously disoriented in big places like that and, as I was looking for the frozen fruit isle (to pick up some raspberries), I bumped into the cheese section.
Being the cheese-lover that I am, I started browsing through the quite impressive selection, when, under a pile of Brie I spotted something very very exciting: a whole wheel of Livarot cheese, sitting there waiting for me to take it home! Looking closer I realized that there was a wide variety of French cheeses to choose from, all rather hard to find in Greek supermarkets. I wanted to buy them all, but had to show some restraint and ended up with one wedge of Tomme de Savoie, one of Munster and a good amount of goats cheese (restraint and excess are somewhat loose terms in my vocabulary…) .
Also known as “The Colonel” (the rings of bulrush wrapped around the rind are reminiscent of a colonel’s uniform), Livarot is an AOC cheese produced in Normandy and is considered one of the smelliest French cheeses. Its distinctive aroma is so pungent that if you don’t like smelly cheese, don’t even consider buying it. It also poses many problems with storage, because it will make your whole fridge smell like, well, a BARN! When it comes to taste, however, Livarot is a real treat: creamy, fatty and decadent, with layers of taste that develop in the mouth, it makes the perfect way to end a meal.
So thisis my modest entry to Cook the Books: a wedge of smelly French cheese. I am going to enjoy it at room temperature together with some fresh baguette and some Calvados perhaps (I am allowed a teeny weeny drop of alcohol now and then). I will close my eyes and travel to France, since it will be a while until I manage to go there.
If you would like to find out more about Cook the Books Club as well as our next book selections please go here.