the siren song of cheese ::::
When Eat and I lived in Champaign, Illinois for 10 years, we lived less than a mile from a food processing plant. Save for the heavy, mechanical oily smell that hung in the air every so often, the neighborhood was a nice place to live. We had a running trails, a park, quiet neighbors, and no worries with commuter traffic. Although we didn’t realize it then, it was a pretty good gig for a newly married couple.
So that oily air I mentioned? That was the plant making Velveeta. They called this Velveeta “American cheese.” I find it morally offensive that people call Velveeta or similarly produced products “American cheese.” No, this is not cheese, friends. It is a travesty, this mix of chemicals and processing that creates a springy, orangey food “product.” Why Americans would accept and tolerate this title, sullying the true cheese name, one of milk, salt, and rennet, I do not understand. Anything labeled “food product” is suspect. It implies processing: taking the raw and unadulterated and adding chemicals, more chemicals, cooking it all in large vats, and then labeling it edible.
So I stand here, unashamed, to stand up for cheese. The real cheese! It does not stand alone! The cheese of our ancestors! Cheese of the unblinded Europeans, who understand cheese is milk, salt, rennet, and have no inkling to rename some “product” European cheese. Ewww. “American cheese” (sic) hereby has ceased to exist in my book. There is no such thing. It is a figment. Imaginary. Fake.
Let’s wander back to the real cheese. While the greasy processed smell of Velveeta may be more appealing to some, I much prefer the raw, room-temperature tang of Brie, the nose-tickling nuttiness of an aged Gouda, or the ripe fragrance of Limburger. Or how about mild cheese and covering with a pungent onion instead? At least the onion has a recognizable smell, not one to be confused with a mildewing gym bag or a dirty diaper. Cheese + onion + oil + caraway = Handkase mit musik.
Translated from German, this means “Hand cheese with music.” Hand cheese is difficult to find in the US (I’ve called many places) but a sliceable farmer cheese makes a good substitute. This recipe found its way to my repertoire via a German friend, patchworked from family and friends. It’s a quick appetizer to throw together, only needing a crowd to like lots of cheese, the crunch of onion, and lots of pumpernickel bread. You might just chase that processed “food” away with your real cheese, onion breath, and robust pumpernickel.
- Farmer's cheese (or German Hand cheese if you can find it)
- balsamic or apple cider vinegar (I use a mixture because the balsamic can be quite strong)
- neutral oil
- onion, finely chopped
- caraway seeds or fennel seeds
- Cut cheese into pieces ¼-inch thick.
- Immerse cheese pieces with 3:2 vinegar:oil mix.
- Sprinkle with caraway or fennel seeds.
- Serve in a shallow bowl with pumpernickel bread.