The French concept of terroir, a confluence of elements – soil, atmosphere, weather, and other factors – that gives something a certain taste or flavor to foods and wine, is often spoken of as an elusive concept outside of France. But it does exist in the United States, as well as other countries. We just don’t have a word for it. The French, being so good with words and language, and seemingly having a word for everything – of course, do.
In France, each cheese and wine has a certain provenance that gives them specific characteristics. For example, you can’t make a Brie de Meaux outside of the Brie region, and Camembert de Normandie must come from Normandy. In the U.S., there are the merits of Texas pecans versus Arizona pecans to debate. Are Georgia peaches better than California peaches? And if you want to really get into it, one just needs to mention barbecue, and you know you’ve stepped into a minefield of tastes, and opinions.
The cuisine of the south seems to inspire the most boasting of all the regions in the United States. I know that good food isn’t specific to any particular region, or country. (However if you’re going to serve me a lobster roll, it’s got to be on a toasted pull-apart bun, filled with big chunks of warm lobster bathed in melted butter, Connecticut-style.) I was leafing through Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard, a thick book of recipes rooted in North Carolina, what she calls “her corner of the south.”
I was intrigued by Mulled Muscadines and Whipped Feta Toast, made with grapes indigenous to her region, a curious Pork Shoulder steak braised in red curry with Watermelon (which she says becomes similar to long-cooked tomatoes, which definitely makes me want to try that one out), and Dried Apple Chips, although I’m not sure how long a string of apple slices strung between two posts would last on a sidewalk in Paris. We’ve taken to planting nettles in our planter boxes, to thwart the rampant plant-pilfering.
When I landed her recipe for a Party Magnet, a low-fallutin’ name for a cheese ball, I thought it’d be fun to give that one a go. I’m always looking for things to serve during the apéro hour, and also looking for ways to use up odd and ends of leftover cheese, like the French do with Fromage Fort.
The recipes are written in everyday, folksy language, but without being cheesy. (Unlike the pun that I just used.) Vivian Howard talks in plain language about what to look out for in a recipe, such as not to use date “pieces,” which are dates mixed with flour, or not to flip out because the cheese mixture is too soft after you paddle it up in your stand mixer. Chilling the mixture will make it easy to shape into a ball. I felt well taken care of when reading through the instructions, and putting the boule de fromage together.
But no matter how well-written a recipe is, there are some things you just can’t control. In this case, my camera died just as I was starting to put the cheese ball together. Going with the flow, I put the project on hold for a couple of days until it got out of the shop.
So I can say for sure that for those of you into do-ahead projects, this cheese ball is one of them and can be made a few days in advance. Or, you can organize all the ingredients, and they’ll keep a few days until your camera gets out of the shop, in advance of sharing the recipe with friends.