Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Take your blondes, take your truffles."

One of my paddling buddies let me in on the fact that Laird Hamilton has started a clothing line in conjunction with Steve Madden. Lo and behold, here he is in NYC paddling our beloved filthy Hudson River a mere two weeks ago. Why the hell didn't I know he was here? Look at this finery. This pic came from a website called INF, and there are more luscious photos of Laird, who is probably hoping he won't need a tetanus shot after he gets back to the shores of Manhattan, here.

I show his picture to my friend Sharyn, who didn't know who Laird was. Her reaction? "Meh. He's nothing special. He looks like a thousand other male models. You have completely different taste in men than I do. I like dark and swarthy."

Au contraire, I argued. He is a walking Adonnis! Sharyn said, "Take your blondes, take your truffles."

Which brings me to the topic I was orignally going to blog on about today: Sottocenere (soh-toh-CHEN-er-eh) cheese. This is my favorite cheese in the world, a creamy blend of cow's milk and truffle slices. It retails for about $19 or $20 a pound. Yikes, I know, but it's worth every cent. So I shared some of my Sottocenere with Sharyn, whose reaction to my beloved cheese was as ambivalent as it was to my beloved Laird. I was shocked. "How can you not love Sottocenere? How can you not love Laird?" Perplexing.


Back to Sottocenere. It hails from Reneto, Italy, located in the northeast province of the country called the Veneto. Sottocenere translates from Italian as "under the ashes" and there is actually a weird grey-brown ash on the rind. At first, I couldn't figure out what the deal was, but later learned that covering cheese in ashes is a traditional Veneto custom of preserving cheese. Since I'm no food critic, I'll leave it to the expert, in this case, San Francisco Chronicle foodie Janet Fletcher. She writes:

According to Michele Buster of Forever Cheese, a New York company that imports Sottocenere, the cheese was created only seven or eight years ago by a cheesemaker in the Veneto.

Made with raw cow's milk and aged about 100 days, Sottocenere is studded with bits of black truffle and rubbed externally with truffle oil. According to Buster, the gray ash coating includes nutmeg, cloves, coriander, cinnamon, licorice and fennel. I don't smell a single one of those spices, either on the rind or internally. The dominant aroma is truffle, which seems to come more from the pungent oil than from the specks inside.

Under that thin, brittle rind, the paste is a pale butter color with a smooth, moist, semisoft texture. To my taste, the cheese is too intensely truffled to include on a cheese board, where it might overwhelm its companions. But I have no trouble thinking of ways to showcase its silky texture and seductive aroma in the kitchen.

On a recent cold evening, I arranged thin slivers of Sottocenere on top of creamy, just-cooked polenta and let the cheese melt in the heat. Toasts topped with Sottocenere and broiled briefly would be a glamorous accompaniment to a green salad. You could top a hamburger with slices of Sottocenere to make an elegant cheeseburger, or tuck some slices into a holiday omelet. A crusty grilled cheese sandwich made with Sottocenere and cut into small, neat squares would make a festive hors d'oeuvre with Champagne.

Is your mouth watering yet? If not, try a slice yourself, while looking at pics of Laird. Works for me.

1 comment:

tnova3 said...

How about Laird covered in cheese??? Cause he is one Grade A Prime Beef