The Mousetrap

scroll down for a fondue recipe…

Those of you who know me know Cleo, the most forceful personality in my life from the ages of 6 to 24. Cleo was a cat (yes, a very old chat at that).

Some people in Manhattan call exterminators; we, however, had a far more merciless pest deterrent in the vicious and voracious Cleopatra Saretsky. In my most impressionable years, I would walk through the foyer of our apartment, only to find a poor lost soul, all ears and tail and whiskers, dragging a bloody and bedraggled grey body temporarily out of the clutches of the furry claws of dearest Cleo. Having been a mouse for Halloween, I immediately sympathized with the little victims, and scooped them up on two paper plates, placing them safely in the hallway, with a hunk of cheese to see them through to recovery.

I gave a great deal of consideration to their feline-recovery fromage. The fridge was, of course, stocked by my French mother, and the mice on East 68th Street were rarely treated to such commonalities as plain ol’ cheddar. No! Hunks of Saint Andre and Explorateur, the very best Parmigianino, and if I was feeling particularly empathetic, a whole wheel of bonbel (wax removed), which was, at the time, my absolute favorite. I do hope that with such a quality supply, I didn’t lure our little neighbors back into the danger zone.

It was all too appropriate then, that on the day of my cheese course at Artisanal at their headquarters on West 37th Street, that I was wearing my favorite pair of Marc Jacobs mouse shoes. Sometimes New York can seem like a pair of cat’s claws, batting you around all day until you are just so exhausted, you could just give up. Tuesday was just such a day, so that by the time I finally arrived, I felt like I’d been lifted up by two paper plates and dropped down, bedraggled myself, in the dim hallways of East 68th Street. I know that I was right to provide those happy mice with such delicacies, for by the time I walked out of Artisanal that night, I was very much recovered.

First, the greeting area was filled with bottles of Cava, and 10 different cheeses, with jams and nuts and dried fruit, and of course, crackers and hunks of baguette. Creamy rounds, fragrant tomes, pungent blues, bright chevres—I tasted them all. Ok, I more than tasted them all. Then, out came the fondue—no, they wouldn’t say what cheeses they used, but had I been a mouse, I would have considered the thing a delectable hot tub and decided to end my days surrounded by the creamiest of luxuries. Delicious and positively reeking of white wine.

Once inside the classroom, we learned with surprising detail about the different milks, the different washes, the different techniques and rinds and wrappers of cheese. Did you know that the way to “blue” a cheese is to pierce it with needles so the mold can penetrate all the way through, creating teal marble from simple milk and rennet? We learned how to properly taste cheese: pierce it with your fork (don’t spread it on bread!), sniff it, and then coat your mouth in it. We learned to pair it with wine, by matching the texture and weight of the glass with the cheese. I even, for the first time in my life, met a cheese I didn’t like (Brescianella Stagionata, ITALY, cow’s milk). It was so pungent that had I given it to one of Cleo’s victims, it would have finished off what she started.

At the end of the affair, was a crumbled, cheesy cheese cake, with praline crust and topping. I was speechless, if a bit drunk; quiet as a mouse in mouse shoes.

What can I say? Cheese is like catnip to me. I simply can’t resist!

Below, I have listed for you the cheeses that we tried, for you to sample as well. You can get them all at Artisanal. I also highly recommend their bistro. And below that, my fondue recipe. But here let me just share a few words of wisdom concerning fondue, and you won’t be disappointed. First, buy an electric fondue pot if you’re doing cheese; candles really only work on chocolate. Second, toss the shredded cheese with a bit of cornstarch—that’s what makes it smooth, and prevents the cheese from separating when it’s heated. Third, use more wine, or Kirsch, or beer, than you think necessary. Fourth, remember the famous rhyme: while the cat’s away, the mice will play. Play with any cheeses you like, and add herbs or garlic or ham—anything! It’s melted cheese; how could it be bad?

Bon app!

Artisanal Cheeses

  1. Roves de Garrigues
  2. Monte Enebro
  3. Ossau au Piment d’Esplette
  4. Chaource
  5. Montgomery’s Cheddar
  6. Brescianella Stagionata
  7. Tome des Bauges
  8. Blu del Moncenisio

Sign up for a class at Artisanal.

Basic Fondue

The Fondue

1 cup of white wine

5-6 cups of shredded gruyere cheese

1 tablespoon of corn starch

The Bathers

1 Belgian endive, end removed and spears separated

1 baguette, sliced thinly on an angle

2 granny smith apples, cored, and cut into wedges

2 dry sausages, sliced

1 head of broccoli florets, blanched in boiling water for 2-3 minutes and shocked in ice water

  1. In a sauce pot, heat the wine over a medium flame.
  2. Separately, toss the cheese with the cornstarch. This is the key step that most people tend to omit, but it is necessary to absorb the excess moisture in the cheese to keep the fondue smooth.
  3. When the wine is hot, add the cheese and cornstarch, and shut off the flame. Stir to melt.
  4. Pour the cheese into a warm electric fondue pot—these are easy to find and inexpensive nowadays. Arrange the beigneuses on a platter, and get dipping.
  5. I would recommend mixing the cheeses; adding perhaps a fontina, even a brie or a blue. Add thyme and garlic. Or add crumbled bits of crisped prosciutto. Enjoy!

My Serious Eats review of Artisanal’s cheese course…

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Categories: Finds, New York, Voyages

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