When I was growing up in Newton in the '70s, I was unaware that there were more than five kinds of cheese.
Yellow, white, American slices, mozzarella and cream cheese were about the only things available, and my Asian dad found cheese fairly disturbing, so we didn’t eat it often.
When I arrived in San Francisco for school, everything was a revelation. Cheese was everywhere, in all forms. It was incredibly chic. Everyone but me knew so much about it and I felt like I had just fallen off the pumpkin truck.
So I went out and bravely tried all the cheeses I could. It was an expensive hobby, and a caloric one, but worth it.
I found, to my surprise, that my favorite cheeses were the most pungent, runny, stinky ones. Morbier, for example, or Taleggio, have a truly off-putting smell, but taste delicious.
Like any new experience, expert level cheeses are something you have to work up to. Start with something new and work your way around until you find what you like.
In this season of entertaining, nothing is easier than putting together a cheese plate. You just buy the cheese, get some fruit and crackers, put everything out and boom: done.
I like to have at least four varieties, with different textures, colors, and flavors. I usually have a washed rind cheese, like Camembert or brie, a hard aged cheese like Manchego, a creamy goat cheese, and a blue cheese, like Stilton. I get some berries and toasted nuts and dried fruit and let my guests try different combinations. To finish, I buy amazing chocolate and that’s that. No hassle hors d’oeuvres!