Wednesday Will: Shakespeare’s 12th Cheese, or Whatever

Shakespeare’s 12th Cheese, or Whatever

   “I will make an end of my dinner;/ There’s pippins and cheese to come.” The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1.2

As they often mistake the identity of the ingredients in many of Shakespeare’s recipes, diners often mistake what the cheeses are in his ‘12th Cheese’, usually on the menu at the Globe around Christmas time. It remains one of Shakespeare’s most loved winter desserts, with an almost cult following. Though in this version Castelmagno and Emmanthaler are specifically mentioned, any mix of cheeses can be used. Shakespeare wants us to have some fun with the dish: choose “Whatever” you like. Just be sure to accompany the cheeses with a surprising mix of delicious condiments.

The Ingredients of the Dish:
Enough cheese to make you burp for a week
The 12 Days of Christmas
A shipwreck
Lots of isms, (see Shylock’s Bruschetta)

The Chef of the Dish:

Some cheeses are born great, some cheeses age to greatness, and some cheeses have great sauces dribbled over them once plated. Be not afraid of serving cheese as a dessert. The trick is mixing them in such a way that their different flavors and textures combine harmoniously – but with surprise.

Though Englishmen usually prefer a sweeter end to our meals, in the fall and winter a cheese finish after a hearty roast can be like music to lovers: it keeps the meal lingering until all the guests are fully satisfied. I always recommend mixing at least 4 different kinds, varying the milk; sheep, goat, cow or some combination of the three; the texture, from a dry Castelmagno to a creamy raw milk Brie; and the savoriness, from a sharp Blue or Gorgonzola to a soft alpine Emmenthaler.  Of course the platter should be accompanied by appropriate condiments, letting the diners mix and match, from Dijon Mustard with lightly roasted green tea leaves incorporated to different blends and kinds of mostarda, then various kinds of honey and jelly.

Sometimes the cheeses’ flavors can get a little confounding though, particularly once their original flavors are transformed by adding one of the condiments. A regular guest kept coming back and having the same Pecorino over and over again and every time he would complain that it wasn’t as good as the first time. I tried to tell him, “Orsini, though your sharp eyes do well perceive the same faded cream color of the aged milk, yet that same keen sight short sights your nose and tongue. ‘Twas not the Fossa you did enjoy at the first but a cut from a brandless round that, sadly, a now retired herdsman’s daughter from a farther southern Italian hillside hamlet did prepare in exclusivity for our half-round kitchen. If I should have the tastiest fortune of having her sheep’s round come ‘round this Globe again, I do swear to keep and hold the savoriest piece for your well-appointed duke’s tongue.” He refused to believe me, saying that a woman’s tongue is too inconsistent to create such a deeply structured flavor. I didn’t want to argue the point: he’s a consistent client who always orders an expensive bottle or two of wine with dinner.

Anyway, eventually Viola – the cheese-maker’s name – and her brother did come back and I have a chunk from their lovely, fragrant cheese round stored for the duke as a Christmas gift. He usually stops in at least once during the holidays so he should be coming by any day now. I’ll serve it to him with a sweet Suave. And tell him the cheese is his favorite Pecorino di Fossa. The client is always right.

The real recipe:

Plop over to Dean & Deluca and buy a good variety of mostly imported cheeses and sauces. Try not to cry when you see the bill. Then lay them out for your guests after a pause following a heavy meal. Be sure to take the cheeses out of the fridge at least an hour before serving as most cheeses are to be served at room temperature, or at most cooled but not chilled. And try not to eat too far past the point where your stomach tells you, ‘man, you are gonna be really sick.’ You wouldn’t want to spend any days of Christmas laying flat on the couch…

link: a brief of history of cheese (and its usages. Even – I kid you not – in Roman cement)

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