The Food Almanac: Wednesday, September 18, 2013

It's National Blue Cheeseburger Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ JohnnyMrNinja

Like other cheeseburgers, this one gets much of its allure from the widespread notion that any dish can be improved by adding cheese.

Food Around The World
Today is Independence Day in Chile, which declared its intent to dislodge its Spanish colonizers today in 1818. Fast forward 173 years, and we find Chile emerging as a major producer of excellent wines at such attractive prices that they caught on quickly in the United States. Chilean wines have two unusual tales to tell The first is that it's one of the largest winegrowing area in the world growing French wine grapevines on their own roots. The phylloxera root louse has not (yet) arrived there, is why. Second, Chile recently discovered that a grape variety they've been calling Merlot is actually Carmenere, an old French variety that is probably extinct in France itself. All of that is secondary to the fact that Chilean wines, grown on volcanic soils at the same latitudes as the other great wine-producing areas of the world, are excellent.

Annals Of Cheese
Elmer Maytag was born today in 1883. He was the son of the founder of the Maytag Corporation, the maker of washing machines and other large household appliances. He is of special concern to us because, as president of the company, he started a dairy farm in Iowa in the 1940s. The farm--still owned by the Maytag family--developed a cow's-milk blue cheese that has become the leading such cheese in America. Eat some crumbles of Maytag blue today in his honor.

Annals Of Cookies
Today is the birthday, in 1956, of Debbi Fields, the founder of Mrs. Fields, whose cookie-baking stores in malls and downtowns all over America sell those soft, warm, gooey cookies everybody seems to love. She is as famous for having been a young mother with no business experience when she opened her first store in Palo Alto, outside San Francisco, in 1977. An apocryphal story, circulating on the Web for years, has it that a customer at a Mrs. Fields asked for the cookie recipe. She was told the price was one ninety-five, and bought it. A charge for $195 showed up on her. To get even, she published it all over the place. The same story is told about Neiman Marcus. Both versions are pure myth.

Today's Flavor
Today is National Blue Cheeseburger Day. The standard cheeseburger--the most popular main dish in America--is so common that more than a few makers of them are always on the lookout for an interesting variant on the idea. The one that's making the greatest inroads these day uses blue cheese in top of the beef. The hamburger restaurants trying to climb upscale have found this one particularly successful. Their customers are not only intrigued by the notion, but willing to spend a much higher price than they would for a cheeseburger with a slice of American, or even grated Cheddar.

Like other cheeseburgers, this one gets much of its allure from the widespread notion that any dish can be improved by adding cheese. This is clearly not so, but in the absence of better ideas (hamburger joints, even the expensive ones, are not exactly on the cutting edge), cheese appears. And the more offbeat the cheese, the better.

In my opinion the combination doesn't work well. The main problem is the heat of the burger. The flavors of melted blue cheese are completely out of whack. I like hamburgers, and I like blue cheese, but I'd rather separate them. Take the lettuce and tomatoes off the burger along with the blue cheese, make it into a side salad, and you have two dishes, both of which are better than the one they were made from.

Deft Dining Rule #766:
Anyone who eats blue cheeseburgers only does so when other people are watching. This is especially true if it's Maytag blue cheese on there.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Burger Creek is 166 miles north (by way of the Sonoma Valley) of San Francisco, in the Coast Range mountains of Mendocino County. It runs about ten miles, making small canyons here and there, before joining the Eel River at a place called Dos Rios ("two rivers"). The Eel flows to the Pacific Ocean. A bridge over Burger Creek was built in 1888, and still carries traffic. This is stunningly beautiful country, with redwoods and sequoias all over the place. The nearest place to get a burger cooked for you is at Chief's Smokehouse, seven miles west in Laytonville on US 101.

Edible Dictionary
Stilton, n., adj.--Stilton is the most famous blue cheese of England. And one of the best in the whole world of blue cheeses. It is the cheese most often eaten with port wine at the end of a dinner, particularly in winter. It originated in the 1700s in the town of the same name, in Huntingdonshire. Its fame spread because it was served to travelers who stopped at the Bell Inn, a popular stagecoach stop. It's a pasteurized cow's milk cheese that begins in much the same way that Cheddar does. By law, its manufacture is limited to the shires of Derby, Nottingham, and Leicester. The blue veining is encouraged by piercing with wires during its four-to-six-month aging period. The mold itself comes naturally, through the air. Stilton is made in large cylinders, and as it ages it gets a light brown coating that's considered a hallmark. It has one of the strongest aromas of any blue cheese; I find it creamier, too. An old practice of carving a hole in a Stilton and filling it with port has, fortunately, gone out of vogue.

People We'd Like To Dine With
The late James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano on the television show The Sopranos, was born today in 1961. He won all the awards one could win for that role, one of the most complex ever portrayed on the tube. Tony Soprano likes braciole, so I think the restaurant I'd have picked to have dinner with him would have been Impastato's.

Food On The Air 
The Columbia Broadcasting System went on the air today in 1927. From its earliest days it broadcast many cooking shows. Many advertising dollars were attracted to such programs. The hosts would have to speak very slowly, repeating everything twice, so that listeners could get the recipes down. It made for stultifyingly boring listening. That's why I rarely give recipes on my radio food show. When I do, I run right through them, giving the general idea, and telling people to go online for the details. The last food show on CBS Radio was a five-minute daily shortie with Chef Mike Roy in the late 1960s. CBS announcers signed off all its radio shows in the Golden Age with, "This is CBS, the Co-LUM-biaah Broadcasting System." I keep that tradition alive when we go to CBS on my Saturday shows on WWL.

Music To Eat Popsicles By
Today is the birthday, in 1944, of singer Michael Franks, whose most memorable song was Popsicle Toes. Interesting, unique style he had. . . but after listening to five or six of his songs in a row, you about had it for the next six months. Hey! He has a food name!

Food Namesakes
Speaking of franks, we begin with a rare double food name: Bun Cook, a pro hockey player in the Hall of Fame, born today in 1904. . . American classical composer Norman Dinnerstein started eating today in 1937. . . John Berger, an artist and art critic in England, gave his first opinions (perhaps while eating blue cheese!) today in 1926.


Words To Eat By
"A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make."--Advisors of Debbi Fields, who created Mrs. Fields' cookies. She was born today in 1956.