Maternity Leave

Due to the arrival of our own little cheese on May 12, That’s So Cheddar will be taking a short maternity leave. I expect to be back posting regularly in mid- to late-June once I’ve figured out how to balance writing and sleep deprivation.

In the meantime, I’ll be eating massive amounts of previously-forbidden soft and raw cheese. Which, of course, I started doing in the hospital just hours after delivery. Thanks go to my sister, who ran to a market as soon as she heard that I was in labor:

First post-pregnancy cheese

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe

I have a really terrible memory. When I’m introduced to new people, their names fly in one ear and straight out the other. I can’t remember what classes I took in college. And I often find myself wandering the aisles of Rite Aid wondering what I needed that brought me there in the first place.

Yet, I can recall almost every single restaurant I’ve ever been to. And I eat out a lot. I couldn’t tell you where the restaurant was located or when it was that I ate there, but I could recount exactly what I had and why I liked it (or didn’t.)

So when the conversation at a recent cocktail party turned to a meal that included pasta mixed in a giant wheel of cheese, a lightbulb went off. My friends Jon and Julie and I dined at an Italian restaurant that had a dish like that … maybe four, or was it five years ago?

Of course I couldn’t remember the name. Luckily for me, Jon isn’t nearly as memory-challenged. He provided the address and Dave and I were off to Cacio e Pepe for dinner.

The restaurant’s signature offering — Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe — was even better than I remembered. It’s a typical Roman dish using tonnarelli pasta, like a square spaghetti, tossed in pecorino with black peppercorns.

What’s fun is that the waiter does the tossing table-side:

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe Being Tossed

Then scoops it all right onto your plate:

A little bit of drama, a lot of cheese, and I’m one happy girl.

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe

The pasta was perfectly al dente, with the rich and salty cheese offset by the spiciness of a generous amount of black pepper.

It was gone in mere minutes.

You don’t have to have a giant wheel of pecorino to recreate this dish at home (though it would certainly be handy.) Click here for a really simple 15-minute recipe from Food & Wine.

Cacio e Pepe, 182 Second Avenue, 212-505-5931

Larkin Housewives' Cook Book

Cheese Balls Of Yore

“It is woman’s special province to rule over the culinary destinies of the home. And potent, indeed, is her scepter, for good humor and health wait upon appetite and digestion.”

As soon as I read the opening line of the “Larkin Housewives’ Cook Book,” published in 1923, I knew I had to have it. I love rummaging through used book stores for old cookbooks. Not only are they often hysterically funny, like this one, but it’s fascinating to see what dishes were in vogue in certain time periods.

The cookbook was published by Larkin Co. Inc., a now-defunct Buffalo-based company which made pantry items like macaroni, corn starch and salt. It contains more than 600 recipes submitted by “practical housekeepers and culinary experts” alongside illustrations like this one:

Larkin Housewives' Cook Book Illustration

I thought I’d share a couple of my favorite recipes, which prove that while the book’s references to women may be antiquated, certain cheese dishes are truly timeless:

Cheese Balls

 “To two cups grated cheese, add one-fourth teaspoon salt, a few specks of cayenne pepper and the stiffly beaten whites of three eggs, or sufficient of the egg white to moisten the cheese. Form into balls, roll in bread-crumbs, fry in hot fat. Serve in nests of lettuce as a luncheon dish. The cheese may also be made softer with more egg and dropped on saltines or rounds of thin toast and baked slowly until firm.”

Submitted by Mrs. John H. Wells, Nashville, Tenn.

Cheese Straws

 “Two and one-half cups pastry flour, one and one-half teaspoons salt, one-half teaspoon baking powder, three-fourths cup water, one-half pound cheese (put through food-chopper), one teaspoon paprika, two-thirds cup shortening. Mix and roll as for pastry. Cut in strips five inches long and one-fourth inch wide. Bake eight minutes in hot oven. Pile log-cabin fashion and serve with salad or coffee. These quantities make ninety cheese straws.”

Submitted by Mrs. David Davies, Remsen, N.Y.

Cheese Potatoes 

 “Put a layer of sliced cold potatoes into a baking-dish, then a layer of cracker-crumbs, pepper and salt to taste, and specks of butter and cheese. Add another layer of potatoes and so on until all are used. Sprinkle grated cheese on top. Cover with milk and bake twenty-five minutes in a hot oven.”

Submitted by Mrs. Bernice Beeson, Greenfield, Ind.

Among my favorite non-cheese recipes are Lobster Wiggle, Maple Cream Sponge and a type of cookie called a Hermit. A warning to those coming over for dinner anytime soon: we’ll be eating like it’s 1923.

Cheese-Rolling Contests

Cheese Rolling Contest

This could be the plot of a Hugh Grant movie: a small English village is bypassed by the area’s new highway, leading the town’s residents to dream up a cheese-rolling contest to attract visitors.

As sad and kooky as that sounds, it’s actually the true story of Stilton, England, namesake of the famous blue cheese.

The now-annual event, held Monday, was invented in the 1960s by two pub landlords who told villagers it was “an ancient tradition” to convince them to participate, the BBC reports.

“It’s certainly gone from being a quirky idea to a massive event for the village,” the news outlet quotes a local historian as saying.

While I would love to see an actual wheel of Stilton being rolled down the street, the cheese is too soft and crumbly to make it all the way down the town’s main drag.

Instead, teams roll wooden blocks cut from an old telegraph pole and painted with blue veins to resemble the cheese, according to the BBC.

But even if the cheese were sturdy enough to withstand a good tumble, it seems there could be a liability issue.

In Gloucestershire, “daredevil cheese chasers” have for two centuries spent a late May bank holiday hurling themselves down an incredibly steep hill while trying to catch a wheel of Double Gloucester cheese, the BBC says in a separate report. Not surprisingly, most end up in a heap at the bottom.

Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling Contest

Last year, contestants had to chase a foam cheese after police told the cheese maker she could face legal action, the BBC says.

And here I thought the U.S. was a litigious nation. It seems a bit unfair that simply making, or even providing, a wheel of cheese could cause someone to be liable for an injury suffered by a knucklehead who decided to throw it (and himself) down a hill. On the bright side, I suppose, there’s no more wasting a good wheel of Double Gloucester.

McSorley's Cheese Plate

McSorley’s Cheese Plate

The first time I mentioned to my mother that I was going to McSorley’s Old Ale House, she responded with “Oh, do they allow women now?” Though the East Village saloon has been around since 1854, it wasn’t until 1970 that women were allowed to belly up to the bar. Apparently my mom hasn’t tried to since she started college.

McSorley's Old Ale House

McSorley’s is an NYC institution. It only serves two types of beer — “light” or “dark” house ale — and in glasses that seem much smaller than the average pint. Most patrons order multiple mugs at once, resulting in dozens of glasses crowding the wobbly wood tables.  There’s sawdust on the floor and unique full-size urinals in the men’s room that extend from floor to shoulder. (A friend insisted that these, the best urinals in NYC, are a must-see for every visitor to the bar. How could I say no?)

It’s clearly not the urinals that keep me coming back. It’s the cheese plate.

Stupidly simple yet surprisingly satisfying, it boasts roughly a dozen cuts of cheddar (or American, if you prefer), raw white onion and a sleeve of Saltines. The key is to add a smear of the insanely hot — as in clear your sinuses, sting your eyes — mustard that’s kept in pots on the tables. (I try not to think about how long it’s been since those pots have been cleaned.)

Here’s my perfect bite:

Sample cheese bite

I know, it doesn’t look like much. Yet, it goes so well with a swig of ale. It’s a must-try, at least once.

McSorley’s Old Ale House, 15 East 7th Street, 212-474-9148