Illustration by Bob AulI don't know what came over me the other evening. I was at home, curled up with pipe in hand and slippers on feet, perusing a lavishly illustrated copy of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat, when I felt the sudden, irresistible urge to cut the cheese.
Of course, I mean, as a passionate turophile (cheese-lover to those of you sans dictionnaire), I was overcome with the desire to nibble on what writer Clifton Fadiman called "milk's leap towards immortality." So the next morning, I dusted off the Studebaker and sallied forth on an expedition to amass a smorgasbord of curdish delights. And I'm not referring to any delicacies now being sampled by our boys in Kirkuk.
My journey began in Costa Mesa at a dingy little cubbyhole known as Globe European Delicatessen at Harbor Boulevard and 19th Street. That's to say its exterior was rundown, but inside was a well-kept little German market with various sausages, breads and dairy goods from the Old Country.
To the side of a long deli were a few tables with checkered cloths where one might partake of a bottle of beer and a thick sandwich prepared by the lovely fräuleins behind the counter. But I immediately headed for the cheese section, where I was allowed to sample a number of käse before making purchases.
First off was Esrom, named for the Danish town where it's made. A mild, yellowish cheese with craggy holes inside, it reminds one of a Havarti with a little more character. I then ventured off into Danablu, a crumbly Danish blue perfect for salads or by itself. Encouraged by the counter lady, I went for another blue, this time Barvarian Cambozola, a musty hybrid of French Camembert and Italian Gorgonzola. Cut from a wheel with a Brie-like crust, its innards dotted with splotches of blue, it was easily my favorite from this stop. I'm still savoring its creamy, fungus-y taste—though I admit it's high time I brushed my teeth.
Last was the très funky bierkase, or beer cheese, which neither tastes nor smells like beer. In fact, the closest I can come to describing it is the memory of a high-school wrestling match in which I was bested by a particularly sweaty opponent who won by thrusting his nether regions into my face. But if you like that sort of thing, by all means, have at it.
The forward right wheel of my Stude blew out near the intersection of Irvine and Mesa. Perhaps serendipity had something in mind; as I trudged toward a telephone to call for service, I caught sight of the Irvine Ranch Market in the Back Bay Shopping Center. After the AAA chap fixed my flat, myself being a bit too rotund for such hardy tasks, I gave the market a look-see and found they had a lovely selection of pre-wrapped gourmet cheeses.
Though I couldn't try my acquisitions until I got home, I can report all were tasty and unique. Of these, I quickly gobbled up a pimply white triangle of British Stilton with lemon peel, sweet enough to serve as a dessert. Not far behind was a wedge of Gourmandise, a smooth, French spread made with walnuts and a touch of cherry brandy, perfect for a slice of carrot cake. On the other end of the flavor spectrum was a firm goat cheese with a black rind from Humboldt County named Midnight Moon. Now I must warn that this stuff smells like an old pair of Bass Wejuns worn without socks. However, for those who adore goat cheese as I do, it's the ne plus ultra, with a subtle, nutty taste belying its rank odor.
Final stop: Pascal Epicerie, the beloved French café adjacent to the restaurant Pascal. Down to my last Hamilton, I blew most of it on a hunk of Petit Basque and a slice of Pave d' Affinois, the former being a firm sheep's cheese from the French Pyrenees and the latter a delectable double-cream sensation that looks like Brie but tastes like some sort of cream pudding. No doubt my fatal attraction to fromage will cause artery hardening later in life, but that's a price this chubby cheese addict will gladly pay!
Globe European Delicatessen, 1928 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-3784; www.europeanfoods.com. Open Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m.-5 p.m. All major credit cards accepted; Irvine Ranch Market, 2651 Irvine Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 631-4404. Open Mon.-Sat., 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m.-8 p.m. All major credit cards accepted; Pascal Epicerie, 1000 N. Bristol St., Newport Beach, (949) 261-9041; www.pascalnewportbeach.com. Open Mon.-Sat., 7 a.m.-7 p.m. All major credit cards accepted.
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