Cheese is among the most beloved of foods. How could it be otherwise with thousands of varieties to choose from? And it is a food that can be eaten raw or cooked in so many ways, on sandwiches, with bread and crackers, or just plain. It goes with wine, or beer, or, well, some cheese or other really goes with almost everything.
Italian food is ubiquitous across the United States. Mall food courts have a requisite pizza place selling pepperoni-topped slices to hungry shoppers. Lasagna is a staple at the dinner table, and school cafeterias offer minestrone as the soup of the day. Bruschetta is on the appetizer menu at neighborhood bars, and coffee shops stock biscotti in the bakery case. At the grocery store, it’s easy to find prosciutto, gnocchi and dozens of flavors of gelato.
In Colonial times in Massachusetts, cheese was not on people’s radar. When they landed in Boston in 1630, the Pilgrims brought with them mainly beans and hardtack.
The region is rich with history-making events; the Revolutionary War started in Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, followed by the Siege of Boston, the Battle of Bunker Hill and General Washington taking command of the Continental Army on Cambridge Common. That army also ate beans and hard tack. We had the navy bean, the pea bean and the kidney bean. All of them baked.
Since the earliest days of American artisan cheese, the type of milk used to make curd has evolved rapidly. At first, it was all about goat, with pioneering Francophiles like Laura Chenel and Judy Schaad turning the country onto fresh Chevre. Then, still borrowing from European traditions, raw became a focus; then organic, then grass-fed. We’ve seen a renewed interest in vegetable rennets, followed by a push to turn almonds, cashews and coconuts into vegan artisan cheese.
Back in the day, the best way to find great restaurants was to look for the parking lots with the most cars. It’s still a good idea to keep your eyes peeled on parking lots, but these days smart shoppers look for parked food trucks with the longest lines for a taste of the new and unusual.
Top chefs sometimes man the busiest food vending vehicles selling creative dishes at discounted prices. Make no mistake, those with grilled cheese, which can be replicated at home, are not serving your mother’s version.