After my family’s annual Easter egg hunt, mom often deviled those colorful little ovals that had been hidden in our backyard. She’d peel and cut them in half, mash the yolks with mayonnaise and minced celery, and spoon the mixture back into the whites. While fairly pedestrian, they were a beloved fixture at our family picnics and barbecues, usually sprinkled with paprika to garnish.
Everywhere there is milk, there is cheese. The alchemy of an excellent cheese is well known: the skill of the cheesemaker, the species and diet of the milk source, even goût de terroir. Cheese tasting gives the traveler not only the experience of world flavors, but also of culture and place.
Macaroni and cheese is as American as hot dogs, burgers and apple pie. You would be hard-pressed to find a citizen in any part of the country that has not spooned up the creamy cheesy dish at least once, with most developing a fondness or downright addiction for the rich dish in early childhood. For many parents, the pasta and cheese dish was the original easy-to-make, nutritious fast food that the whole family could enjoy in just a matter of minutes.
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.
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.
For the lucky, such as Greek-American chef and cookbook author Michael Psilakis, Feta cheese has held a long celebrated place in the kitchen and in cuisine since childhood.
“My memories of Feta growing up are very vivid,” he says. “It was always on the kitchen table, and I was always grabbing a little piece. As the seasons changed, there was something different next to it. In the summer, there was watermelon. The sweet watermelon of summer with the salty, briny, tangy flavor of Feta cheese — it was like a roller coaster of flavor in your mouth.”