A night of cheese, a night to remember

November 18, 2001|By Rob Kasper

It was the night of 12 cheeses, a gathering in which the main fare was fromage, the aged offerings of cow, sheep and goat's milk. The cheese was spread on slices of crisp bread, served with glasses of red and white wine.

It was a cheese tasting held in Glen Burnie Town Center, where Anne Arundel Community College has recently opened kitchens and classrooms used by the college's Hospitality, Culinary Arts and Tourism Institute. I was among the handful of restaurateurs, college administrators and cheese heads who had gathered to be led by Jack Fromberg down the butterfat road.

Fromberg had come down from Baltimore where he had just opened a cheese shop and cafe at Calvert and Read streets. Fromberg's cheese operation includes a wholesale side known as The Great Cheese, and a retail cafe, Combalou, named after the limestone caves in France where Roquefort was discovered. He sells cheese by the pound, or for folks who want to sit down and eat, by the plate. Fromberg said he plans to age, or finish, cheeses in refrigerated sections of the building.

The building, at 818 North Calvert, once was used by The Sun to store newspaper vending devices, or racks. In other words, the building has gone from a newspaper "rack room" to a fromagerie. That, I think, is progress.

Fromberg, whose Dutch in-laws once ran a dairy farm in Israel, is a member of the American Cheese Society and has served as a judge at the group's annual gatherings. Like a teacher, Fromberg told us details of the 12 cheeses resting on our plates.

He began with a kind and gentle cheese, an Urgelia, a Spanish cow's milk cheese with a washed rind; then followed that with a Petite Basques, a sheep's milk cheese that had sharper flavor notes. Then came the goats -- a mild cheese, Cavrion, from Mexico and a stunningly creamy cheese called Chaput, from Quebec. There were sighs of delight as the crowd savored the Chaput.

To demonstrate that Americans can make good cheese, Fromberg served an Old Chatham Camembert that came from a cheesemaker outside Albany, N.Y. It was remarkable stuff, a butterfat delight.

Representing French cheese was an Epoisses from Bourgogne, a soft, washed-rind cheese, that Fromberg said was "a favorite of Napoleon." Next from the Swiss Alps came an Emmenthal that, Fromberg explained, had been aged in caves, at various temperatures, for a total of 14 months. I was surprised that anything that had spent that much time in a cave could be so refined.

A Cheddar called Grafton Gold came from Vermont. It had been aged for 3 years and tasted leagues beyond any of the Cheddar "aging" in my fridge.

By the time we got to the Reggiano, the Italian cow's milk cheese with a nutty flavor that made me want to move to Italy, I was ready to put extra air in the car tires and roll home.

But there were three more cheeses to try. There was a Crutin from Italy -- a cheese made with cow's milk, goat's milk and bits of black truffle. One of the rules I live by is never turn down a truffle. Then came a smoked cheese, a San Simon from Spain, flavored with the smoke of birch wood. Closing out the evening was an intense Bingham Hill blue cheese. Fromberg said a couple who lives in Fort Collins, Colo., made this cheese. They were attorneys, he said, who had given up their law practice to pursue their love of cheese.

At one point in my life I would have doubted that story. But after experiencing the night of 12 cheeses, I began to understand that this was more than mere milk I was encountering. It was, as essayist Clifton Fadiman once wrote, milk's leap to immortality.

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