Around the Cheese Board with Madame Fromage
Cheese blogger and author Madame Fromage shares some of her favorite cheese moments and pairings. Get her recipe for Brandy Old-Fashioned Bread Pudding with Wisconsin Mascarpone in the winter issue of Grate. Pair. Share.
Madame Fromage evolved out of homesickness for Wisconsin. I moved from Madison to Philadelphia in 2005 to start a new job, and I didn’t know a soul. One day I passed by a cheese shop called Di Bruno Brothers, and I stopped in to pick up a wedge of (Wisconsin) Pleasant Ridge Reserve. The guys behind the counter were so excited I’d asked for that cheese, they offered me samples of half their stock. I left with a big bag of goodies and a determination to learn more about artisan cheese in general.
After that, the cheese counter turned into my corner bar. I stopped in every few days for a nibble and conversation, and eventually I began taking notes. The blog evolved as a way to record my tastings—the name was just a joke at first, but I grew to like it. It’s like a stage name, which is perfect since every cheese board is slightly theatrical, in my opinion—a place where dramatic pairings can shine.
What’s your perfect pairing with cheese?
I’m on a chutney jag. I love pairing a good apple or mango chutney with sharp Cheddar—something a British friend taught me. Chutney pairs well with any Blue Cheese with a whoosh of pepper. Around the holidays, I love to pair Triple Crèmes with sour cherry jam and Champagne.
Tell us a little about your recipe.
I miss drinking Brandy Old-Fashioneds at the Tornado Club in Madison. One night, I was reminiscing a little, and I started wondering if it would be possible to make a hot Old-Fashioned—like a hot Toddy. That led me to the subject of warm, winter-time desserts, and since I often have a baguette lying around…well, I couldn’t not whip up a batch of boozy bread pudding. I also had some Wisconsin Mascarpone on hand, which I love to eat on toast. So, the combination was a karmic miracle.
What resources or tools do you find useful when learning about cheese?
Honestly, your own nose and mouth. I am a big believer in sampling cheese before you buy it. Smell it, taste it. Think about the flavors. The more you train your palate bite by bite, the more you’ll notice how certain notes appear and reappear—like the smell of hay on bloomy Bries, or the taste of roasted garlic that often pops out in Alpine-style cheeses, like Gruyère.
What is it about cheese that inspires you?
I’m a fiction writer by training, so I think about cheese in much the same way I think about books. I like to browse. I like to discover. For me, finding a great cheesemaker is like coming upon a great author: it makes me want to taste every wheel that person has created. Great cheese, like great literature, requires skill and imagination—two things I respect very deeply.