Magic Mood Changer: Just Say Formaggio
03 April 2011 Sonoma, CA I have no internet, nor even a chair for that matter. My furniture is coming next week. I have only what went to Italy with me, plus a few things I’ve needed since landing. There is dust everywhere from renovation, yet inches below are a fantastic kitchen and an entire house with tiled floors and a garden. My new home in Sonoma. But right now I can only see brooms, my trashed socks, white pawprints on everything, and the air mattress where Lincoln the Dachshund and I sleep folded like a taco under a 1970s sleeping bag. The past two weeks Lincoln and I have been sleeping in the loft portion of an R.V. in a friend’s driveway in downtown Napa, where we crash-landed from Tuscany after driving from LAX over the next few days. In spite of feeling pretty grubby, I made it to Petaluma for the Artisan Cheese Festival last weekend, and Lodi as well for some Zin tasting. But right now, I am sitting on the air mattress, backside sunken to contact the cold floor, wondering which internet café I will go to for posting this, and really longing for my furnishings. And my Le Crueset.
This morning was even worse. Tonight I have completed scouring and inaugurating the kitchen, whereas this morning the dust and disorder were unbearable. Endless white powder dust was still coating everything and there was nothing but a pack of razor blades that could remedy the slap-up paintjob that includes a freckling effect on the white tile throughout the house, taking my poor fingers down in throbbing flames after hours of labor. By late afternoon, I was pretty wrecked... spent, in fact, and anxious about having some semblance of a life back after nearly six months of a gypsy lifestyle, albeit deliberately chosen. But soon the Beacon revealed himself. Enter Roy, the cheesemonger at Sonoma’s Whole Foods, where I popped in for some no-utensils-required provisions. Of course, I do have one utensil, a Murano glass cheese knife from Venice I have been dragging around and dying to use. Bee-line!
What a fine warm welcome to Sonoma was Roy on this day when my tired mind rivaled my running-out-of-steam body, the beacon that was Roy delivering mercy in the form of a cheese sampling that bubbled with mutual passion. There were the blues (save for gorgonzola, a subject of contention for certain Culture blog readers who will remain anonymous... you know who you are!), the Pecorinos, the Gruyere... and then Roy pulled out the big guns, the piece de resistance, and a knowing grin crept across his face as he handed me a flower-shaped sample of Swiss Tete de Moine (Monk’s Head.) It looked like a little cake-topper flower of sculpted white chocolate, formed by the most delicate and intricate shavings of butter-like cheese, and there was no way to take a small bite without destroying the very fragile petals of this work of art. Standing at the counter and popping this little gem into my mouth erased all the frustration and disorder of my domestic almost-life and transported me right into a place of Truth: This is why I am moving to Sonoma, like-minded and shameless gastro-geeks who understand and revel in the hedonistic ways of high- maintenance taste buds.
My mood had magically changed, overcome by lust for the daily life I am embarking on in Wine Country. And then Roy hit me with some background: the Swiss Tete de Moine is made as a wheel, and has been for centuries, but in 1982 a special cheese cutter called a Girolle was invented especially for this cheese to form the delicate rosettes that allow for the flavor to delicately crumble onto our tongues. And it did indeed. And now there was another kitchen gadget I must add to the collection, whether or not it is ever used.
I had unexpectedly reached my wow-factor quota and it was time to go back to the chalky echo chamber that is temporarily my house, and the air mattress that sucks me into an abyss every night, but I grabbed a hunk of cave-aged raw milk Swiss Gruyere and some organic granny smiths for the late-night snack hours after sushi, leaving the Tete de Moine for an upcoming housewarming/birthday weekend. These things must be rolled out in moderation, to keep that elusive bar ever-raising. I am irritated that I can’t even research it online now, and woo you with my thoroughly-researched inserted facts about the climate in this particular region of Switzerland and how it affects the milk, or how the monks and their cheesemaking evolved in the region... but since it is a blog, I must post quickly and not delay over such details. It sucks, because I’d love to, really. A visit from the Comcast guy is what stands between my sounding like a teen-aged squealing cheese fan versus a published food and travel writer of esteemed repute. So here I sit in my dust, overtaxed Swiffer just feet away, looking forward to the table that will fill an empty space by the window, and the faces of my dear ones as they delight over paper-thin cheese rosettes melting on their tongues, perhaps even hand-spun from the wheel with my very own girolle...(?)