(“Ode on the Mammoth Cheese” by James McIntyre, written to celebrate a big cheese produced in Ingersoll, Ontario, in 1866, and later exhibited in Toronto, New York, and the UK.)
Cheese! Earlier celebrated by poet John Armstrong as “that which Cestia sends/tenacious paste of solid milk,” cheese is one of the most reliable and adaptable snacksandwich ingredients for the non-lactose intolerant. Let’s take a look at the options we have with both sliced cheese and cheese spreads.
1. The Basic Cheese Sandwich.
No description necessary. Take two slices of your preferred bread, and at least one slice of your preferred cheese, and whatever else you want on it. Eat.
Outside of the confines of your own home, the best place to have a basic cheese sandwich, sliced diagonally, with American cheese, white bread, mayo, and possibly a pickle slice, would be at any of America’s great remaining drugstore lunch counters.
2. The Grilled Cheese Sandwich.
The thing to remember is that not all cheeses melt in the same way. Fondue is delicious, save when you’re trying to eat it between two pieces of toast, after your cheese proves extra-runny; some cheddar varieties will be grainy, melted; and if you go with blue cheese, unless you have powerful ventilators you’ll be reminded of your tasty sandwich throughout the next day, whenever you walk into the kitchen.
Grilled tomatoes go well with a grilled cheese sandwich, as do tasty grilled meats such as Lebanon bologna, mortadella, or our old friend Taylor Pork Roll; as do such additions as caramelized onions, Brooklyn specialty mustards, or — trust us on this one — Marmite.
Plus, you’ll never know which religious or popular cultural figure will appear on your sandwich until it’s ready to eat!
3. The Cheeseburger.
To be covered at greater length in a later installment. All we can recommend is: don’t let the cheese overwhelm the beef.
4. CREAM CHEESE SANDWICHES.
An essential base ingredient of many spreads, delicious in and of itself on a bagel — so long as the bagel is good, and the cream cheese is good. Here in the Northeast there’s no cream cheese better than Ben’s — but if you have a particular favorite let us know; we’re willing to learn. But, don’t tell us, “Philadelphia.”
5. LIPTAUER SANDWICHES.
Generally employed as a dip, this spicy Central European delight adds considerable to many sorts of sandwiches. Liptauer can be made from cream cheese, quark, or soft goat and/or sheep cheese. Depending upon the region (Switzerland, Austria, Hungary) the spread can be mixed with sour cream, butter, beer, chopped onions, caraway seeds, to note just a few. Liptauer tends to be a reasonably consistent product, wherever it is made.
Such, sadly, is not the case with two of the best-known American regional cheese spreads.
6. PIMENTO CHEESE AND KENTUCKY BEER CHEESE SANDWICHES.
Both, originally Southern delights. Having been discovered by the rest of the country, however, both are too often “Improved” by chefs until they are unrecognizable. Though we shall not name names, pimento cheese is not improved by the addition of capers or Spanish pimentos; and Kentucky beer cheese is not improved by throwing in a few anchovies, or using Emmenthaler.
Both spreads are best made at home, although ready-made traditional pimento cheese is findablepretty much anywhere in the country save the Northeast. (But the Amish stands at Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal always offer fine pimento cheese in the classic style). The farther you get from gourmets, the better it’ll be.
Old School Kentucky beer cheese, however, has essentially vanished. At some point during the 1970s, the grandmothers and grandfathers who knew the original recipe passed on, and the small Kentucky stores and taverns that made it best went out of business, and as with many regional American foods, one year it was there and then the next, no longer.
As a public service, Boo-Hooray presents two short recipes for both of these regional American cheesy treats.
2 small jars of drained, sliced pimentos
Pound and a half of non-fancy American/Cheddar-esque cheese
1 cup of mayonnaise, Hellman’s preferred. Miracle Whip, if not preferred.
Beat pimentos and cheese together in a mixer. Add mayo, blend that in too.
Spread on bread; eat.
KENTUCKY BEER CHEESE
1 pound aged cheddar cheese, preferably the kind used to bait mousetraps
1 can + of flat domestic beer, the more off-brand the better.
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Horseradish, fresh, grated, as much as desired according to taste.
[Horseradish is the lost ingredient: cayenne, hot mustard, tabasco, garlic -- none work as a substitute, though all are used in contemporary versions]
Shred or grate cheese into a large bowl. Add salt, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish.
Mix with heavy wooden spoon. Begin adding beer, keep stirring. Consistency should be half liquidy, half lumpy. Let sit overnight. Next day, taste. Add whatever of the above as needed.
Spread on anything equally edible. Then go make another sandwich!
P.S. But danger, kids — stay away from these: