Thursday, April 3, 2008

Fromages et Felines

One of the things I like about living in Southern California, and one of the things I missed during my sojourn in Memphis, is shopping at Trader Joe's. Many of their products are imported, organic, vegan, or otherwise not found at the big commercial grocers. Recently, I was perusing their cheese selection and, on a whim, decided to sample some unfamiliar (to me) varieties. Upon reaching home, the cats all crowded round to help, thus ensuring that something would end up on the floor. I don't remember what it was that they 'helped' clean up that afternoon, but it got me to thinking about my self-cleaning kitchen floor system (so named by my mom, who has a much better one than I). So, over the next few days, I held an informal cheese tasting for the cats, to see if they had any particular tastes in cheeses. The five sampled cheeses were (remarks in parentheses come from the respective labels):

Bavarian Beer, a semi-hard off-white from Germany (made from raw milk, matured in dark beer, aged over 120 days)

Dubliner, a hard white from Ireland

Killarney, a hard yellow from Ireland (grass-fed, aged a year)

Light Havarti, a soft white from Denmark

Raclette Livradois, a semi-soft from France (raw milk, aged over 60 days)

I personally liked the two Irish cheeses the most, I suppose because I seem to prefer hard cheeses over soft. They also tended to have more pronounced flavors. The Bavarian Beer had a nice mild flavor, although if the label hadn't said beer on it I don't think I would have noticed a beer flavor. The light Havarti had a bit of a smoky after taste, but was otherwise very mild. The Raclette, although having a smooth consistency and light flavor, smelled absolutely horrible - like the inside of my running shoes after they've been relegated to lawn-mowing duty. Even two zip-lock freezer bags were not enough to contain the stench - it permeated the refrigerator until I threw it out.

The cats were not presented with all five at once, as I figured they would soon tire of the exercise. Also, not all of them participated equally, as some are more active members of the self-cleaning kitchen floor squad. To count, the subject cheese had to be actually eaten; licking it wasn't sufficient. The paws-down favorite was the light Havarti - all four cats found it edible. Next up were the two cheeses from Ireland, each with three takers, although not always the same ones (Fredericka preferred Dubliner, while Dexter went for the Killarney). The Bavarian Beer was next with two (Irish and Maybelle, who are virtually omnivorous). Despite their omnivorous qualities, however, not even those two would touch the Raclette - a sniff or two was enough.

I don't know that there are any definitive conclusions to be drawn from this, other than nobody likes stinky cheese. What's the point of having an acceptable-tasting cheese if you have to hold your nose in order to serve or eat it? Are the French so olfactory-impaired that they are able to tolerate this stuff? Anecdotal stories about their infrequency of bathing would lead one to think so. Since they also carry bread by sticking it under their armpits, maybe there's something to that. Alternatively, it may be a big joke - they don't actually consume the stuff themselves; they pawn it off on us incredulous foreigners and then laugh behind our backs. Either way, I'm glad it's out of my refrigerator!