LA Weekly readers will recognize Jonathan Gold by his witty humor and dry commentary about all things food. In 2007, he was the first restaurant critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, and as a Pulitzer finalist again this year, he doesn't appear to be slowing down. Recently, he sat down with culture and answered some questions about himself, cheese and his West Coast beat.
Who in L.A. is doing cheese best?
Nancy Silverton at the Mozzarella Bar at Osteria Mozza. When you sit at her counter, it's like watching the greatest magician in the world doing slight-of-hand tricks with a single variety of cheese. And the weekly Cirque du Fromage at Palate can be astonishing.
You say your cheese habits are a little old school, what do you mean?
I do love cheese. I can remember the moment of my conversion to the cult of cheese, as a 24-year-old at the old La Toque up on the Sunset Strip, where the chef, Ken Frank, subsidized his fetish by including a pass of the trolley in all his tasting menus. When I lived in New York, I tended to spend about twice as much at Murray's each year as I did at every supermarket combined. I experienced the thunderbolt when I first tasted Fantome chevre in Wisconsin.
When I'm in Italy, I spend inordinate amounts of time chasing down great pecorino producers in the areas around Pienza and Visso, mozzarella guys in Puglia and ricotta near Todi, and my daughter's first request for a special trip -- she was five at the time -- was to visit a caseficio that made Parmigiano-Reggiano. (It turned out that what she really wanted to do was pet the cows, but no matter. At 17, her bedroom is decorated with cheese posters, including a cheese print that came with the Parmesan snow at El Bulli.)
I consider a properly runny Epoisses to be proof of a loving God. Sometimes, when I'm confronted with a four-umlaut Swiss thing, or read about Anne Saxelby's latest find in some corner of Vermont, I start to think that cheese culture has passed me by. Then I remember that I have some Vacherin Mont d'Or or smuggled Oaxacan quesillo in the fridge, and I start to feel a little better.
What do you think are the most over- and underrated cheese dishes out there?
Is there an overrated cheese dish? I mean, other than stadium nachos smothered in orange pump cheese better suited to caulking tile? I'm not sure there are underrated ones either, although some things I would like to see more of are gougeres, really well-prepared mozzarella in carrozza and tacos made with the Durango-style crispy substance known as chicharrones de queso.
You're eating cheese, what are you drinking?
I would like to say an old Maury, because it is amazing with cheese, but it is usually a modest Alsatian Riesling with just a bit of sweetness -- or really, whatever is left in my glass at the end of dinner.
In all of your experiences as a food critic, what is the worst thing you have ever eaten?
Something that appeared to be boiled rawhide in a sauce of vinegar and pureed, overcooked spleen at a long forgotten Vietnamese restaurant in Orange County. I have since heard that when well-cooked, this, or something like it, is a delicious, gelatinous Lao specialty. That night, it wasn't.
Jonathan Gold is a prizewinning writer and critic whose work appears regularly in the LA Weekly. He has also written for Gourmet, Spin, Rolling Stone and others.
Alexandra Howard is a culture correspondent living in northern California.
Follow culture magazine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/culturecheese