To Celebrate Valentine's Day, culture: the word on cheese gave its fabulous Winter Cheese Plate to Katherine Hysmith, a displaced Texan and grad student at Boston University's Gastronomy program, who normally records her New England kitchen adventures at The Young Austinian. She put together a romantic Valentine's picnic (indoors, of course) for herself and her husband. Get inspired by her story, photos, and recipe to make your own picnic this Thursday.
Cheesy Pickup Lines and a Picnic
A wedge of blue cheese walks into a bar, goes up to the counter where a beautiful red headed is sitting and says "Can I buy you a drink? I'm cultured..."
Admittedly, the above cheesy pick-up line probably won't help you find love this Valentine's Day, but a carefully-picked cheese selection might. Whether you're single as a slice of American Cheese, in a steady relationship, or seeking out a new main squeeze, cheese is a food that binds (and not just between two tortillas in a quesadilla). Paired with a few simple snacks and rounded out with a bottle of red, cheese makes for a date night to remember.
There are many advantages of eating cheese in a romantic setting. First, it's a finger food and can lead to some awkward-yet-adorable Lady and the Tramp moments. Secondly, it's cultured, and by that I mean, that it gives the appearance of worldliness and can earn you some serious brownie points if you can not only appreciate the distinct flavor profiles but also rattle off some cheese making facts or pronounce "Comté" correctly. Ladies like a guy who knows his cheese. And, even if you don't really know your date that well, you can probably assume they like cheese--because, come on, who doesn't?
In the Young Austinian household, the cheese bin overrunneth and we seem to make more emergency trips for Muenster rather than milk, so a date-night indoor picnic revolving around cheese was just the ticket.
While I will praise my husband's talents to the green-cheese covered moon and back, he sadly lacks any real cooking abilities. But, when it comes to cheese, this guy knows his curds. Gourmet grilled cheese, you bet; the best homemade mac and cheese, done and done. Cheese is his forte, that's why this cheese-tasting for two had to be Gouda. (Did I mention he likes puns too?)
No thanks to the frigid New England weather, a romantic dinner al fresco is out of the question right now. But with some quick thinking, I rummage for the LL Bean knock-off picnic blanket from the linen closet. Spread out on the hard wood floors, as near to the radiators as possible, I assemble an indoor picnic while trying to keep the cats from pawing the spiced nuts. To pair with the big cheeses of the night I whip up a quick and simple galette aux pommes de terre: a dish that gives the impression of French fanciness and l'amour, but is really just a plain potato pie. Three lovely cheeses--a veiny blue, a robust Comté, and a salty Cheshire--rest patiently alongside crumbly oat crackers and those spiced nuts that the cats have now cornered.
To finish the meal, I dip a few imported strawberries (I've no guilt, this dreary weather makes me stoop to buying out-of-season produce), in melted dark chocolate and garnish the lot with a few appropriately themed sprinkles. Each component of the picnic, even the simple red wine, helps highlight the complexities of each cheese. And if one is truly a turophile (that's Latin for cheese lover), which Mr. Young Austinian and I are, then you'll appreciate the fact that chocolate, fruit, potatoes, and essentially any carb takes kindly to the addition of cheese.
So blue cheese might not be an aphrodisiac, but a mutual affinity for cultured dairy will demonstrate the extent of your love for one another. And a cheesy indoor picnic is sure to win the hearts of turophiles and non-turophiles alike.
Galette Aux Pommes de Terre
This dish gives the impression of French fanciness and l'amour, but when it comes to ease of construction, it's simple as (potato) pie.
- 3 large russet potatoes (or any other sturdy variety), sliced 1/8 thick
- 3 tablespoons butter (or bacon fat, which is what I used)
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Set the oven to 425°F. During the preheat cycle, melt the butter and/or bacon fat in a small cast iron skillet in the oven. Remove the skillet once the fat is just melted and before it begins to brown.
- Toss the sliced potatoes with the melted butter, thyme, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.
- Line the bottom of the same butter-melting skillet with a ring of potato slices, filling in the middle with overlapping slices. Continue layering with the remaining slices. Pour any butter left in the bowl over the top of the potatoes. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown and the potatoes are cooked through. Slice into wedges and serve with assorted cheeses for topping.
Written by Katherine Hysmith
Photography by Katherine Hysmith