Saturday, April 24, 2010

Curd is the word: St. James Cheese Co.

It depresses me to dwell on it, but one of the most difficult decisions I had to make regarding my new eating "regime" was cutting out milk products, even more specifically cutting out cheese.  That meant no more mozzarella, cheddar, jack, brie, Swiss and definitely no more American cheese slices that I'm not sure are even formally recognized as real cheese.   I shed many tears over this dietary omission, but I knew this sacrifice was necessary in order for my weight loss to be a success.  While wiping away my sorrow, a ray of Gouda-hued light fell onto my face and I realized a wonderful truth. My separation from the incredible curd would not be eternal after all . . .I always had my cheats!

On Thursday, John and I visited the St. James Cheese Company for lunch and I was reunited with my dear friends once more.  This is my 33rd cheat and I am down 58 pounds.

Now don't get the wrong idea, I love cheese, but I know only the basics.  Artisan cheese is as varied and regional as wine and, although I have tried my share of unusual or uncommon cheeses, I know virtually nothing compared with the owners and employees at the St. James Cheese Company.

When John and I entered the trendy, upscale restaurant/deli we decided to try sharing one of their special sandwiches and a small cheese board. The brightly-colored chalkboard menu informed us that the cheeses for the board were "house-selected" so we trusted the gurus to do right by us and sought out a table. 

Looking around, I suddenly felt like I was in a shop located in Sausalido or Napa Valley and I just couldn't shake the California-esque vibe until we sat outside on the porch.  It was a gorgeous day and we sipped our sodas and watched the traffic on Prytania Street.  Instead of a Coke, we selected some Fizzy Lizzy sodas manufactured in New York that featured interesting flavors like the ones we chose...Mount Fuji Apple and Red Hill Pomegranate. 

The shop was quite busy for the lunch hour and the tables around us were filled with other cheese lovers anxiously eyeing each order that came through the glass door. To our delight, our order finally appeared and although our server told us which cheeses they selected for our board, I can't for the life of me remember what he said (I vaguely recall geographical locations and European names)!  I realize this is truly a pathetic lapse in my report to you, but let me just say doesn't matter!

If you simply put your trust into their most capable hands, the folks at St. James Cheese Co. will deliver.  Let me describe what I can and you can just let your imagination take your taste buds the rest of the way.  There were three different cheeses on my board, accompanied by three different preserves, fresh grapes, honeyed walnuts and a small loaf of French bread.  The preserves were apricot, fig and muscadine and I am pretty sure the honey drizzled on the walnuts was Tupelo.  Each one of these "condiments" worked in marvelous combination with the featured attractions...three distinctly different cheeses.

The first one I sampled was the texture and shape of Brie or Camembert, but although the flavor had that familiar buttery aspect, it also revealed a smoky tone that was completely novel to me.  Perhaps it was smoked with a wood I'd never smelled or the rind and short aging process lent the cheese it's unique flavor, but anyway you taste it, it was still awesome!  The second was a harder cheese, but only just, and it reminded me of a really mild cheddar with a beautiful crumbly texture that practically melted in my mouth.  The third cheese was even harder, but dense and sticky like jack and it was so delicious,  I gnawed the last bits from the rind.

While John laughed at me as I swooned over the cheese board, he devoured a piece of the open-faced sandwich which he selected, a "Salmon and Chevre", smoked salmon and fresh goat's milk cheese on toasted rye.  It was absolutely fantastic, fabulously fresh tasting and served with (what looked and tasted like) pickled green figs. 

When we finished our cheese feast, I was strangely light-headed and elated.  I had just experienced some kind of cheese-related nirvana and I wasn't ready to come back to earth.  I decided to prolong my lactose "high" and visit Creole Creamery for dessert.

Instead of a sundae like our last visit to the Creamery, we opted for a cone this time.  John got a scoop of Red Velvet Cake and I  chose some Salted Caramel.  Both flavors were fantastic and we slowly licked away our ice cream while sitting on the bench outside in the spring sunshine.

As we made our way back to the car, I savored the cheesy sensation that still lingered around me like a cloud of sweet perfume.  Although I knew it would be a while before I was able to languish yet again in that particular pleasure, I knew exactly where I would visit when the jabbing pains of loss wracked me once again.

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