NATIONAL CHEESE LOVER'S DAY

Get cheesy this weekend!

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Sunday is National Cheese Lover's Day! According to cheese.com, the average American consumes about 31 pounds of cheese each year.

Cheese may be made from milk from cows, goats, sheep and even buffalo, reindeer and camels. There are more than 900 cheese types, classified by taste and texture. The primary classifications and some examples are: fresh cheese (ricotta); soft cheese (feta); semi-soft cheese (fontina); semi-hard cheese (Gouda); hard cheese (Cheddar); double or triple creme cheese (Brillat-Savarin); blue cheese (Gorgonzola); washed rind cheese (Limburger); and bloomy rind cheese (Brie).

Pick up your favorite artisan cheese and cook a cheesy dish for dinner Sunday in honor of National Cheese Lover's Day. Matt Rubiner of Rubiner's Cheesemongers & Grocers in Great Barrington has shared two of his favorite recipes with the Eagle.

RUBINER'S FONDUE

A couple years back, we competed in a fondue competition,— a fonduel, if you will — against several notable East Coast cheesemongers. We lost. Or at least we didn't win, despite our ringer, the great Erhard Wendt, late of the Williamsville Inn, who is German, which is sort of like Swiss. The judges seem to favor elaborate "fondues" loaded with meats, peppers, vegetables and all sorts of non-traditional cheeses, over our purist sensibilities. For us, fondue is one or another Alpine cheese, melted with wine and spirits. All else is nacho topping.

Our fondue recipe (the insides of Rubi's fondue sandwich) calls for the three classic fondue cheeses: Emmentaler, Gruyere and Appenzeller, Generally, we use none of these. We rarely have any Emmentaler, our old Gruy re melts too stringy, and there are other pungent, Appenzeller-like cheeses we prefer. Pick one or more not too hard, bendy-textured Alpine style cheeses. Consult your cheesemonger, or other trained fondue specialist.

Use whatever leftover dry white wine you have. The alcohol cooks off, so teetotalers needn't fear. For the spirit (and don't skip the spirit!) we like Slivovitz, a fiery clear plum brandy from one or another of the pieces of former Yugoslavia. Recipes will often call for a cherry brandy called Kirsch. But don't use cheap Kirsch or your fondue will taste like maraschino cherries, which in a Manhattan is delicious, but in cheese is gross.

Anyway, here's the recipe:

Serves 5 to 6 as appetizers.

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/4 pounds Emmenthaler, Gruyere and Appenzeller, or other combination of not-too-hard Alpine-style cheeses, totaling 1 1/4 pounds

1 large clove Garlic

1 1/2 cup dry white wine

6 tablespoons Slivovitz (plum brandy) or clear fruit-based eau-de-vie of your choice

2 teaspoons Flour

Freshly ground white pepper and nutmeg to taste (optional; I really don't know why it's here)

DIRECTIONS:

Heat the wine and garlic in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. When the wine is hot, remove the garlic. Add cheese. Skip the white pepper and nutmeg unless you insist. Stir over medium heat until the cheese melts. Whisk the flour and brandy together and add to the cheese mixture. Boil gently, stirring for a few minutes. Transfer saucepan to a candle warmer or fondue stand. Serve with cubes of good slightly stale or oven-dried bread.

RUBINER'S WELSH RAREBIT

It's pronounced rabbit. Not sure why they spelled rabbit like that. Nor is anyone else. Even Wikipedia is vague on the matter. The name does appear to have some rabbity origins, however. Some say the Welsh — notorious cheese lovers and incompetent rabbit hunters — had to substitute cheese for rabbit meat lest they grow peckish after a failed hunt. Another source claims that Welsh peasants were not allowed to eat rabbits hunted on the estates of the local nobles, so they had to make do with melted cheese (see Crocker, Betty). As for me, I'll take bubbling, melting cheese over rabbit any day, especially after the loss of poor Amy (don't ask).

Makes around 8 rarebits.

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound Cheddar, Lancashire, Cheshire, Wensleydale, Red Leicester or similar cheese, coarsely grated.

1 cup beer (we use one or another slightly bitter ale)

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

2 tablespoons dry mustard powder

Black pepper to taste



DIRECTIONS:


Melt the butter in a double boiler or bain-marie. Whisk in the flour until it forms a a smooth paste. Add beer and whisk until the mixture has slightly thickened. Add cheese and whisk until melted. Whisk in seasonings. (There's an awful lot of whisking in this recipe.)

At this point, most people would pour the rarebit over toasted bread and set under the broiler until the cheese is browned and bubbling. At the cafe, we let it congeal overnight, then spread it on two pieces of way-too-buttered bread, sandwich style, wrap the sandwich in parchment and grill it for 5 minutes. You can try this at home in a frying pan, without the parchment, but it will be gloriously messy.


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