Mouthing Off

Say cheese: If there's a food in the world that I love more than cheese, I don't know what it could be. Yes, foie gras is fabulous and truffles are divine, but I can't afford to eat them every day--and I'm not sure I'd want to. Cheese, however, I ingest in one form or another just about daily.

Of the cheeses I adore the most--Roquefort, Caprini and Fagottini, Brillat-Savarin and St. Andre, Pouligny-Saint Pierre chevre, Taleggio, Incanestrato, to name a few--only one has its sole source in the United States: Maytag blue.

The name is familiar to Americans because of the Maytag man, the guy who sits around waiting for someone's washing machine or dishwasher to go on the fritz, which the company claims rarely happens. Yes, the cheese comes from that Maytag, and it's just as reliable. The Maytag Company is based in Newton, Iowa, and while founder Elmer Maytag's sons still sell appliances, they also found that making cheese was a much more viable option than the Holstein-based milk business Elmer ran as a hobby. (This family's interest in beverages didn't end with milk: Fritz Maytag, the chairman of the company, also owns Anchor Steam Brewing Company in San Francisco.) So since 1941, Maytag has been plying dryers as well as blue cheese, without ever having to advertise the latter product. Simple word of mouth has made Maytag's cheese one of the most popular in the States, and the company has a booming mail-order business that ships out of the country as well.

I'd craved Maytag blue cheese for so long that I finally went to its source during a cross-country trip about twelve years ago. And while there is absolutely no other reason to ever visit Newton, which sits just outside Des Moines, the Maytag farm is lovely. And I was not surprised to find out that the blue mold the cheesemaker uses, which was patented by Iowa State University, is thought to be an isolated pure strain of Roquefort. Maytag blue has a creamy, tangy, sharp, stabbing flavor that transforms everything it touches--although I generally like to eat the stuff plain and at room temperature with a few slices of crusty bread.

To get Maytag blue cheese, either stop by The Cheese Company, at 735 South Colorado Boulevard, and pay about $14 a pound (they've promised me they'll have it on hand, and if there's a run on it, they can get more within a day), or you can call Maytag directly at 1-800-247-2458 and order it by the pound ($13.35 for two eight-ounce wheels or $20.65 for a two-pound wheel). I've found that it takes two days for them to deliver it to Denver, and the $5 shipping-and-handling charge covers as many pounds of it as you want to have delivered to one address--so it makes sense to go in on a few wheels with some friends, especially with the holidays coming up.

Although I like my Maytag unadorned, it's also fun to cook with, particularly when you follow this recipe from the Farmhouse Cookbook. Author Susan Hermann Loomis visited farms all over the country, including the Maytag spread, and wrote fascinating accounts of their day-to-day workings and the food that comes out of them. The Maytag recipe in her book comes from Maytag's own recipe book, which got it from family friend Fran Lozano. You can use it as a dip for veggies or chicken wings or drizzle it over greens--or, if you're like me, you can just grab a spoon and dig in.

Fran Lozano's Zest Blue Cheese Dressing
(reprinted with permission from the Farmhouse Cookbook)

2 oz. Maytag blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil, such as canola or safflower
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

Place all ingredients in a food processor. Process using short pulses until the ingredients are thoroughly mixed but there are still some lumps of blue cheese. Refrigerate for at least one hour to mellow the flavors; remove the dressing from the refrigerator at least thirty minutes before serving. This recipe makes 1 1/2 cups of dressing, which is enough to generously dress six salads. The leftovers will keep, covered, for three to four days in the refrigerator.

Open and shut cases: I knew the New England Chowda House at 158 Fillmore Place wouldn't be around long, but I thought it would at least make it a year. But the fish house closed its doors Monday, a couple of months shy of its first anniversary. Part-owner David Francavilla won't miss Cherry Creek one bit. "They wanted to raise the rent to $13,000 a month," says the former Operation Desert Storm army sergeant. "I said, 'You've lost your minds.'"

Francavilla hasn't lost much, though. His four-year-old Chowda House at 5240 South Wadsworth Boulevard in Littleton is still going strong, and the original location, at 11104 West Colfax Avenue in Lakewood, is currently celebrating its fourteenth year in business by rolling back prices to 1984. So hurry over for $12.99 lobster and a pound and a half of crab legs for $11.99.

Some folks who gave up long ago on Cherry Creek, Carmen Jennings and Jean-Paul Beining, who once owned Soren's at 315 Detroit, have now given up on the Franktown Grill (7517 East Highway 86)--which had been the best thing to happen to Franktown and the Parker area since US West decided to grace us with its presence. Now we not only have terrible phone service, but we've also lost an excellent French eatery. I haven't been able to get Jennings and Beining on the phone at their house in Elizabeth--which is one of the reasons they opened a place in Franktown in the first place, in addition to the rent being a heck of a lot cheaper than in Cherry Creek--so I don't know the reason for the closure. But I'm going to bet the hicks around here didn't support it (I can say that because I live here and ate at the Grill as often as possible). The space is now a Los Volcanes, which puts the Mexican eatery's total outposts at three. (The others are at 10471 South Parker Road in Parker and 225 West Kiowa Avenue in Elizabeth.)

The food at Los Volcanes is good, but it ain't Jean-Paul's vichyssoise.
-- Wagner


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