This evening on the radio I heard an interview with chef Dan Barber. He was introduced by the host as a chef who could create something with a few common ingredients and make it taste like nothing ever tasted. The secret was not the ingredients by themselves, but how they worked in combination. That made me think of cheese in America, and especially on pizza.
Well over a year ago I was at a restaurant with my sister and her family. I ordered a corned beef and Swiss sandwich. When it came I looked at the cheese and noticed it had an orange hue. It neither looked nor tasted like Swiss cheese. I sent it back. Back it came again, exactly the same, with the statement that it sure was Swiss cheese. I ate it. I have eaten worse. Going out the door the restaurant owner asked me how things had been. I told him that it was not Swiss cheese that was on my sandwich. He assured me it was, in fact it was “American Swiss cheese.” Then I got it. “American Cheese” means a processed cheese, which means various cheeses melted together and reconstituted, with emulsifying salts, with flavoring added. What is has to do with Switzerland is nothing. What it has to do with real cheese is even less.
More recently on two separate visits I ordered a hamburger at a friendly bar near where I work and both times it came with cheese. I had specifically not asked for cheese. Cheese was offered as an option. Apparently no one in that bar ever ordered a plain hamburger. With cheese was the default option. To make things worse the cheese on it was a skinny slice of American cheese. Honestly, I don’t think it added a whit of flavor to the burger. It made me wonder why everyone ordered it.
Walking by a Pizza Schmizza the other day I noticed a lunch special of a slice and pint at a nice price. I went in and asked which pizza had the least cheese. The young woman said “They all have the same amount, except if you order double cheese.” Ack! Has it come to this? The combination of flavors, which does depend on amounts, doesn’t matter with cheese on pizza? In Europe I have had many quatre fromage pizzas. I found this American review on line:
The Quatre Fromages pizza at Danielle’s Wood Fired Pizza in Valley Village is topped with grated mozzarella, ricotta, blue cheese, and goat cheese. It’s a cheese lover’s fantasy, and a well-balanced pie—no single cheese manages to steal the spotlight.
Here is a European version:
100g grated Gruyere
90g of goats cheese (or 1/2 log)
1 ball of mozzarella cheese or 1 package pizza “Entremont”
The American review used the phrase “well balanced.” The European recipe makes sure to note that not all are to be of equal size. Both are a long way from Pizza Schmizza, which I am sure is no more to blame than any other pizza maker in America.
I do not blame either the pizza or the people who buy it. I blame mass advertizing that creates an artificial need. Or maybe it is the Steve Miller Band we need to blame. Hey, somebody give me a cheeeeeeeeese burger!