In American Cookery, James Beard laments that “cheese has never figured as a separate course in our meals as it does in France.” I’d go one step further and say that it’s a shame Americans have never quite picked up the habit of making cheese a meal on its own entirely, untampered with and eaten at room temperature, a proper 70 degrees, just ripe and perfectly bulging.
On nights when I'm feeling less ascetic, sure, dinner is real, à la Melissa Clark: a piece of roasted fish or meat, maybe a colossal salad in the summer, a slow-cooked stew in the winter. And though I do think it's important (and frankly, obvious and unnecessary to point out) that we should eat what's around, what's in season, I also think it's important — more important, even — to cook according to personal context. There are certain things you tend only to eat in private, for instance. For me, it’s blue cheese, the black sheep of cheeses, the one food I indulge in alone but would never serve to guests, mostly because so many people here on earth are, without good reason, prejudiced against the stuff.
Funky affliction though it is, blue cheese is, like most musty tastes, acquired. I suppose this is why I save it for myself: It’s a stolen treat, for me and for me alone. And anyway, even if blue cheese were acquirable as a taste, unless you live in a big city or by a discerning farmers’ market, it can be next to impossible to acquire anything good even if you wanted to. What you can find in most suburban grocery stores, however, is something called “Blue Cheese” (mass-produced with no specification, often crumbled), maybe a generically labeled “Gorgonzola” if you’re lucky.
Regardless of the form you find it in, I encourage you to buy that “Blue Cheese,” cook with it. I may recommend specific varieties where I consider them appropriate, but in no way will I ever claim that the success of a recipe depends on them. They’re just suggestions, what I like to eat. That’s the thing about le bleu: High or low, it’s almost always strong, redolent, and effective.
Blue cheese has certainly changed (and perhaps corrupted) my own eating habits. When balanced and used smartly, it can transform the ordinary and extend one's culinary arm. A touch of it on a plate, for instance, scattered with radicchio, walnuts, and honey, can bring out the natural umami flavors of the other ingredients without the need for meat or the aid of salt. It can serve as both emulsifier and vegetarian substitute for people who don’t want to deal with beheaded anchovies in their Caesar salads. I’ve even gone as far as to preach that it works incredibly well as frosting on a cake.
“A Prescription for Monks” is a play on the recipe for lonely people M. F. K. Fisher provides at the end of my favorite chapter of her Alphabet for Gourmets, “M is for Monastic.” It reads: STRENGTHENING PRESCRIPTION FOR MONASTIC SUPPER. This only slightly facetious chapter about my kind (e.g., monks, hermits, onanists) outlines four apparently necessary, hair-of-the-dog ingredients as prescriptions for the “madness” with which a PhD student might be diagnosed: “1 small loaf crusty sourdough bread; 1 fresh but ripe piece of Gorgonzola or blue cheese; 1 stick sweet butter, a quarter pound or so; 1 bottle Chianti or Tipo Red.”
It’s so humorously deprecating, and so devastatingly accurate. When I first came upon this passage, I was both amused and a little ashamed at how closely it resembled my own weeknight prescription for hunger. (Though, to be completely honest, I wouldn’t mind going without the bread and butter. Just dilutions of the two other vices, really.)
4 ounces Gorgonzola, at room temperature
1 bottle Malbec or Cabernet
Eat the cheese and drink the wine.