In this week's "Ask Corby," our in-house expert offers advice on mold, misleading aromas, and holding your beloved's nose
I always knew I wanted to be an advice columnist—some of my favorite people are advice columnists, after all! It took Dan Fromson to convince me I could do it. And to find a question from the grab-bag that involved boyfriend troubles.
Your turn! We need questions, please, and lots of them—personal, anguished, delighted, in a quandary. Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and Dan will dip his expert hand in for next week.
Q: My boyfriend claims he doesn't like fancy cheese because it tastes too strong (even though he loves sharp cheddar, which is a good deal stronger than plenty of other more exotic cheeses). What's the best way to stoke his cheese curiosity and help him appreciate stronger flavors?
A: Hold his nose. I'm not kidding about this. As the proprietors of a website named Stinky Cheese, not to mention the people who run a much-loved Brooklyn store by the same name (actually, I see, just called "Stinky," though everyone calls it "Stinky Cheese") know, the smell of a cheese isn't indicative of its flavor, and often the smelliest cheeses have very mild flavors. Mold, ammonia, the things that can turn us on (or off) about a cheese frequently don't show on the palate.
That said, some cheeses with strong odors also have pungent, salty flavors that mirror the way they smell: I'm thinking of aged blues, and the example that comes straight to mind is one I tried last night and bought yesterday at Central Bottle, like Stinky a cheese and wine shop (Stinky's sister shop, Smith & Vine, has separate premises on the same street). Central Bottle sells tiny ends and tasting-sized chunks by the cash register with the irresistible name "cheese nips," and I find them as irresistible as the should-be-outlawed candy at a cash register. One nip, Caveman Blue from Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon, was even stronger flavored than it smelled. But many cheese are misleadingly strong in scent, for instance another "nip" I tried, the quite mild Brigid's Abbey, made at Cato Corner Farm in Colchester, Connecticut, not far from where I grew up.
So: make a foray to a cheesemonger near you and explain your boyfriend, or at least the cheese-aromaphobia part. Ask for a strong-scented cheese with a mild flavor. They'll direct you to one. Bring it home and let it come to room temperature—no cheating by chilling it, which just kills the flavor as well as the aroma. Keep it in another room where the aroma won't reach the table. Put a slice on his tongue. Maybe put your hands over his eyes and pinch his nostrils, just to tease of course. Read aloud to him the following passage from Mastering Cheese, by Max McCalman and David Gibbons:
One reason for the differences between the smells and tastes of cheeses is due to our ability to smell only surface volatiles, in what flavor scientists call the "head space" of a cheese....Many of the compounds on a cheese's surface, including perhaps ammonia and quite a number of potentially stinky, barnyardy (even somewhat noxious) odiferous substances, have actually had a mellowing effect on its interior. They are among the ripening agents responsible for balanced flavor development and are one reason why a really smelly cheese can taste quite mellow and mild.
Hold your own breath and ask if he objects to the flavor. Pick a cheese you think he'll like, please—stack the deck! When he replies with a sheepish, dreamy look of utter satisfaction, give him some kind of reward I'll leave to your own devising. He'll be eating anything without (or maybe with) a whimper in no time.