On cheese and frivolity
But I can now declare with great enthusiasm and ample experience that Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk is a stunning cheese. Easily the finest domestic cheese to make its way to my plate. Red Hawk, there is none so fair as thee in all the land!
Produced in Point Reyes, California (only a dozen or two miles from the site of my conception, dear reader!), Red Hawk is a triple-cream cheese with a red-orange washed rind, made from organic cow's milk from the Straus Family Creamery. I first learned of it a year ago, when the American Cheese Society named it “Best in Show” at their 2003 competition. Upon hearing this news I immediately sprinted down to Whole Foods, only to be informed that the last wheel had just been snatched up by another customer. It was the hot ticket, and I apparently missed the show.
Weeks went by, and my feverish curiosity cooled to tepid. I nearly forgot Red Hawk altogether. One day months later I happily stumbled upon it, only to find that the small, paper-wrapped wheel was nearly 13 dollars! My Frivolity Prevention System kicked into high alert. Under no circumstances would I spend that amount on a hunk of cheese, especially since I’d be the only one in the house to eat it: my then-boyfriend had only recently renounced his veganism and was quite squeamish about dairy, stinky or otherwise. And even if I’d had someone to share it with, the bottom line is this: I’m not programmed for frivolity. For example, I clearly recall ragging my mother for her expensive (and, of course, terrific) taste in clothing before I was even a pre-teen. I once caught a horrifying glimpse of the price tag of a Chanel dress hanging on the doorknob of my parents’ bathroom, and my reaction was dark and visceral, somewhere below any consciousness or learning. This behavior is something I’m working on, however, and I’ve overcome my anti-fun instincts in rare moments, such as when a half-off Ann Demeulemeester handbag simply oozing sex presents itself to me. And at Paris’ hyper-bourgeois Le Bon Marché I managed to try on—just for kicks—an absolutely gorgeous Stella McCartney shirt with a plunging neckline and near bustle in the back, and I didn’t even vomit on the price tag and its unapologetic “570 euros” ($700, roughly) in bold-face font. I simply took off that lovely garment, hung it up, and tried not to look too mousy on my way out of the dressing room. I’d be a good Depression wife, as long as beautifully made objects could be bought relatively inexpensively and I could get an Ann Demeulemeester sex bag every now and then.
This past Saturday turned out to be Red Hawk Day, after a year of silly wavering and passive wondering if the hype could be legitimate. Mom was in town, and we’d planned a late-summer picnicky dinner complete with all the things she can’t get back in Oklahoma, that friendly land of oil pumps, chicken-fried steak, and strip malls. At the farmers’ market, we picked up some prune plums and a bag of soft organic spinach for sautéing with olive oil and lemon. At Whole Foods, we collected boquerones (meaty white anchovies from Spain), a pain au levain from Tall Grass Bakery, and a wedge of creamy bleu d’Auvergne. I spotted a Red Hawk and paused before it reverently: now was my moment! It felt solid, heavy, promising.
Back at home, I lovingly unwrapped the cheeses and set them on a platter to come to room temperature. Mom and I began work on the evening’s dessert, but something smelled like dying. I am not one to shy away from so-called stinky cheeses, but this was truly exceptional. It was as though I were wearing a gas mask with a direct feed from the mouth of a halitosis sufferer. Identifying the culprit, Mom kindly moved the cheese platter to the other side of the apartment. Even from there, the odor was pervasive, competing quite successfully against the warm aroma of cinnamon from the plum torte in the oven.
But when we sat down to eat, I was a changed woman. The Red Hawk was a light straw color inside, and the knife slid through it like butter. It called to mind Italy’s Tallegio, but with a much deeper flavor and pungency. It was creamy and musky, milk in a higher form. Had my father been alive and with us, he would have pushed himself back from the table and opened his arms wide, exclaiming, “Ah! This is it!” Indeed, this is it.
I have been so foolish.