Reader, cheese has not touched my lips for over a week. Blame it on a sinus infection, and know, oh, what a struggle it's been not to nibble the three blues sitting in the crisper. Instead of writing about robust cheese, I am wrapping up the last decade with a few fave accoutrements to recommend, from crackers to caramel -- things that go so well with cheese. Here is my dairy-less benediction:
Plum Butter: This might just be my favorite discovery, and at $1.89 a jar, it's a cheap date's dream. I picked this up at my local Polish grocery, Krakus Market, in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philly. It's a great place to sample Polish cheese, pick up fresh kielbasa (try the juniper berry), load up on poppyseed bread, and buy fresh pierogie. You can also buy pigs' feat in aspic. The market is warm, full of cheerful folk, and on a brisk day it's fun to walk down to Port Richmond Books, a great used bookstore housed in an old movie theater just a block away. I love putting a shmear of plum butter on a Carr whole wheat cracker, then topping it with blue cheese. It's also good slathered on dark bread with a swoosh of cream cheese or ricotta.
34 Degrees Natural Crispbread: These thinny-skinny Australian wafers are the best ever all-purpose cracker. They pair well with brie, spreads, blue cheeses, even cured meats. True cheese freaks poo poo the cracker in favor of a baguette, which mingles better in the mouth and doesn't exert too much pungency, but these crisps are really a revelation. Their mild flavor yields to the cheese, and the gentle crunch is a fab underscorer of both the mild and the bold. If cheese is the lily, these are the lilypads.
Dried Tart Montmorency Cherries: When you don't want to overpower a triple-creme, ohh, sweet mercy, these tarty smarties are so fine. They are also a nice accompaniment to sharp cheddars and blues, and if you have them in your cupboard you can dot them on muffins or dab a few on your oatmeal. For me, they are the new olive.
Carr's Whole Wheat Crackers: These oaty biscuits are an old fave, but every time I open a pack I am reminded of how wise the English are to have invented a firm, nutty cookie-cracker that pairs so nicely with cheese. They're good plain, alongside tea, but they are even more marvy with a spot of blue cheese and a dollop of chutney (or prune butter!). Everyone who tastes this combination at my house practically drops to the floor and starts rolling around on the carpet.
Bacon Caramels: Tracy McGinnis runs a new micro-bakery, called Baked, out of Fishtown, where everything is made in small batches (hence the name "micro-bakery") to ensure perfection. Her bacon caramels, which she sold around the holidays, were smashing -- especially as a capper to a bold cheese plate. I've eaten a lot of bacon-amped treats over the last couple years -- bacon fudge, bacon ice cream -- and so often the flavors are off (too salty, too obviously porcine), but Tracy's bacon caramels are understated. Sweet, salty, and just a little bit crunchy. Now that's haute barnyard goodness.
Root: Can I help the fact that I crave a nip after a night of cheese-tasting? Of course not. It's bred into my Swiss bones. This winter, I became fond of this new, locally made, organic spirit -- a mixture of birch bark, smoked black tea, cinnamon, clove, anise, and other spices. Imagine root beer, then add a dash of bitters and a splash of Pernod. Root is lovely on the rocks with a slice of ginger, or as a cocktail (combine Reed's Ginger Beer with a shot of Root, add a squeeze of lemon). It's also a good tonic for a sour stomach.
Glass cheese globe: I used to see these around and think they were ridiculous -- a cheese showcase? What for? Then someone gifted me this marble base with a glass cover, and I absolutely adore it. The marble keeps the cheese cool, and the dome allows you to leave cheese out for several hours without having to cover it with a cheese cloth or moist towel. It also makes ugly cheese look, well, pretty. And who doesn't love a shapeshifter?