Say Cheese: I've just come across a terrific book that's probably the last word on cheese. It's Cheese Primer by Steven Jenkins (Workman, $16.95).
Jenkins is a cheese whiz. He started his career at Dean & DeLuca, New York's famed specialty food shop, where he developed the magnificent cheese section.
According to Jenkins, Americans know just enough about cheese to get them into trouble. Take Brie. It can be magnificent. But just about every ounce of it imported from France is a pale, tasteless, pasteurized imitation of the real thing. That's because government regulations forbid importing unpasteurized cheeses that have been aged fewer than 60 days. (Raw-milk French Brie is aged 50 to 55 days.)
Another sore point: Muenster. The genuine article comes from Alsace, in France; not Germany, not Denmark and not Wisconsin. Alsatian Muenster is fabulous--almost beefy, nutty, creamy and a bit smelly. The other stuff is not worthy to be mentioned in the same breath.
In the book's final section, Jenkins gives a thumbnail sketch of what he calls the world's most important cheeses. Among his choices that are available locally: Parmigiano-Reggiano ("the world's greatest cheese"); Roquefort ("the reason God created caves"); Morbier ("the most seductive of all semisoft cheeses"); Cabrales ("one of the world's most remarkable cheeses, striking appearance and flavor"); and raclette ("the ultimate melting cheese").
Cheese is one of the few edible luxuries that even working stiffs can afford. A great cheese teamed with a good, crusty baguette is one of life's simple and memorable pleasures. Here in the Valley, the best selection is at AJ's Purveyor of Fine Foods. Sportsman's Wines (32nd Street and Camelback) is also well-stocked. And you can occasionally find wonderful bargains at Trader Joe's on Stilton, Roquefort, Swiss Gruyere and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Smoke Alert: Looking for a no-smoking restaurant? The Coalition for Smoke-Free Air, a nonprofit group, has put together a pamphlet listing a couple hundred Valley establishments that do not permit smoking. For a copy, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope and one dollar to the Coalition for Smoke-Free Air, P.O. Box 35201, Phoenix, AZ 85069.
Market Update: One way to measure a city's charm is to count the number of ethnic markets. Being able to shop at small, mom-and-pop stores offering staples and delicacies from the homeland definitely adds to our quality of life.
Eva's, a new Middle Eastern market, is improving the quality of life in my neighborhood. Its Egyptian proprietor recently opened for business at 3375 East Shea, in a shopping strip just east of the Squaw Peak Parkway exit.
It's got a spare, Third World look. There are the usual native suspects on the shelves: couscous, spices, rice, condiments, jam, tea. I was astonished to see gaz, a Persian candy I enjoyed in Iran. The refrigerator case holds feta cheese from several countries, including my favorite, Bulgaria. You can also get homemade hummus, tabbouleh and Greek salad, as well as pita-bread sandwiches.
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