by Lauren Mote
Let me paint a picture for you. It was yesterday, a gorgeous sunny but brisk Vancouver day, the mountains were snow-capped in the distance, and I was the proud recipient of a long weekend alone, just me and my thoughts. Oh the endless possibilities. After completing my liquor order for the week, and smooching John with a “bonne journée” kiss, I headed north towards 4th Street to do some shopping.
I stopped in to see my friend at Brown’s Social Room, and had a quick brunch. After I read about 45 pages of “It Must’ve Been Something I Ate” (Jeffrey Steingarten), I felt inspired and engaged. I decided to head east, towards downtown, but more importantly the cheese shop, “Les Amis du Fromage”, off Burrard St. at 2nd St. It was time to devote my day off to a series of gastronomical events. My usual agenda, in a day completely devoted to the magic of food, is the obsession with one item, or food group, historical data and research, followed by the consumption of set item. Today’s agenda would be cheese and chocolate, not together, but items consumed one after the other, like mains to dessert.
Making my way along 4th st. to Burrard, I stopped a couple of times. I bought some stem-less Riedel wine glasses at Ming Wo, a digital kitchen scale for John’s 37th birthday, and I made my important Sunday phone calls to friends and family in Toronto, which is always appropriate at a time when walking is almost undesirable; this helps the weather seem warmer and the time go faster.
I arrive at the cheese shop, and immediately ask the girl behind the counter if she has La Sauvagine – a popular runny Quebec cheese, made by La Fromagerie Alexis de Portneuft; it was the overall winner in the “washed rind” competition in 2006. The girl grabs a wheel, and I am exstatic. Now, one must remember that the act of consuming an entire wheel of cheese is expensive and unhealthy, so I willingly take 1/4. Next, I float to the “help yourself” cooler, I grab 200 grams of Comté Juraflore – a firm raw cow’s milk cheese from France, and the same in cave-aged Gruyère – a melt-in-your-mouth semi-firm cheese from Switzerland. I am tempted by the small wheel of Brie Bonaparte, but I have effectively exercised caution and will-power. After all I would be alone at home with no restraint, a lot of cheese, and frankly, I wouldn’t destroy the after-taste of these perfect cheeses with pepto-bismol.
I leave the store and head home; the super long and rewarding walk across the Burrard St. bridge. To my left, the picturesque mountains, English Bay, West Vancouver and Stanley Park. To my right, a homeless man with a shopping cart, traveling 25 km/hr, and to his right, views of the Granville St. bridge, Cambie St. bridge, False Creek and Mt. Baker in the distance. I truly believe that I live in the most beautiful place in Canada.
It’s getting really cold out now, the sun is setting quickly and I need to get the cheese home.
I arrive at home within the last 20 minutes of sunlight, and to be honest, I had to go back out to pick up a few more items – milk, bread, baker’s chocolate and some movies.
Later that night, I sample a couple of the existing cheeses we have in the fridge from our last visit to the cheese shop. Roaring 40’s Blue Cheese – a pasteurized cow’s milk blue veined cheese from King Island Dairy, near Melbourne, Australia, Riopelle de l’Isle – a well crafted pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Quebec with a runny, buttery centre, Corsu Vecchiu – a masterpiece of pasteurized sheep’s milk from Corsica, and Saint Aubin – a French raw milk cheese with a natural rind, are among the choices in the “snack pan” of the fridge where one might keep chocolate, but not us, this is for the good stuff – cheese.
After consuming a hefty portion of above said cheeses, with a series of predictable to obscure accompaniments, I laid down just for a second. I read some more of my food essays, while I wait for my digestion to commence. A half hour goes by, and I am ready for another adventure. Pizza.
For the perfect thin crust pizza dough, I look to a recipe from Christine Cushing, with obvious tweaking, as Lauren is incapable of following a recipe verbatim. I prepare the live yeast, the organic flours – white and whole wheat – in a bowl whisked with salt and sugar. My warm water and good olive oil are on stand by. I start the process using my dough-hook in our kitchen aid stand-up mixer. Ouch… the mixer is a hurt-unit. She sounds so unhappy; creaking, cracking and bouncing from side to side, I blame her obvious discomfort on Capital Movers; she’s had arthritis in all of her mechanical-components since the cross-Canada move in September this year.
The pizza dough takes a lot of time and patience to come together. As I stare at the dough-hook, spinning around and around, it dawns on me that “The Joy of Cooking” c. 1975 states that dough comes together differently, during its introduction to different climates, humidity and altitudes. Well, I live in a valley of the Rocky Mountains. Yep, I should absolutely add more water then required. Ah, behold after precisely 16 minutes, the dough has come together, and the mixer quickly falls into cardiac arrest.
I separate the dough-ball into 4 smaller balls by continuously pulling the dough from the top to the bottom, securing the pulled dough underneath in the middle with my other hand. This is the easiest way to turn tough dough into a perfect circle. On a parchment lined baking sheet, the 4 dough-balls rest under a damp, clean dish towel for 2 hours. In the mean time, I have prepared balsamic and thyme caramelized onions, and braised shiitake and cremini mushrooms. I am thawing tomato sauce that I prepared about a month earlier, the perfect amount of tang and richness to pair with my cheese selection, which will undoubtedly be comté juraflore, gruyère, freshly grated parmiggiano reggiano and finished with mozzarella for an even consistency. I also prepare a small bowl with minced garlic, minced thai chili (no seeds), finely chopped scallions and brunoise red pepper, all for the sweet, the spicy and the colour. That will be sprinkled on top before baking.
The only mistake I will admit to is this: homemade pizza calls for a sprinkling of cornmeal on the pizza sheet before lining it with the dough. Unfortunately, Johnny made polenta the other night, and used up the finely ground cornmeal. All I had was the coarsely milled variety, and it didn’t occur to me that it would not break down during the baking process and would add unwanted texture to the opposite side of the pizza.
The oven is set to a raging 500℉, and it’s times like this I wish we had bought a pizza stone. However it’s a unique experience to make the pizza this way as I would imagine that a good chunk of the public do not own a stone either.
Here is the order of items, as they arrive on the baking sheet, no need to grease!
Cornmeal, dough, sauce, onions, mushrooms, all the cheeses, and finally with the bowl of minced vegetables. Toss on to the lowest rack, cook 8 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the middle of the pizza is bubbling.
I was incapable of letting the pizza cool completely, so I grabbed a few slices and savoured. Unfortunately, the taste of the gruyere is lost amongst the other flavours, but all of the cheeses worked really well together. So tasty. Here comes the honesty – I ate the whole thing, and scrambled to use the remaining 2 dough-balls and make John his own pizza for when he gets home. It was so good. So good.
Afterwards, I made a batch of dark chocolate and nut brownies, and they were really, really good, in fact John was hovering over the tupperware eating them one after the other when he came home. But who cares, this is a story about adventures in cheese, in the casual kitchen, brought to you by the obsessive connoisseur.
I think the most interesting stories are the ones written with so much passion on one subject.
The cheese adventures will never stop.
Nor should they.