Cheese and Cassoulet
Some people throw legendary dinner parties. Don’t you always want to be that person? Revered for the time you served 200 partridges atop foie gras-stuffed mini pumpkins? Or for the night you whipped up poutine at 2 a.m. for the whole neighborhood?
Neither do I. I don’t have the nerves or stamina to prepare such epic meals. But I like to be there. I like to chronicle such events. And I like to bring the cheese.
That’s why I was thrilled to swan-dive into my neighbor Larry’s cassoulet party on a recent Saturday. I don’t have the patience to make cassoulet – all those days of cooking wings and shanks – but I loved sitting at the table, breathing in the steam.
Corks popped. Tweens trooped in and out of the kitchen. Glasses smashed. And in other parts of the house, dogs barked and games echoed. It was one of those epic parties where a thousand things are happening all at once – wars, wails, wines – and yet nothing distracts from the food.
The cassoulet was sumptuous, full of fall-of-the-bone pork flavor and still-firm beans nestled in around slivers of duck and homemade sausage. The wine, provided from a crew of nebbiolo heads, was blood-rich and pungent.
This was one of those meals before which a hundred emails fly between guests proffering up their best basement vintages. I was happy to lurk, to sip my first real Amarone (a port-like potion with heavy legs), and to collude on a cheese plate with my date, Mike Geno.
The pair of us, both cheese voyeurs, put forth half a dozen rustic selections. A cassoulet cheese board called for rugged elegance, beauties from France and Italy with a few European-inspired Americans thrown in.
Should you find yourself on a cassoulet-themed guest list, may I recommend (from the bottom of the board, moving clockwise):
- Rush Creek: A gorgeous Vacherin-style cheese from Wisconsin, bound in bark
- Castelmagno: A mixed-milk crag monster from Piedmont
- Testun al Barolo: A dapper dandy packed in grape must from Barolo wine making
- Largo: California’s answer to Coulummiers
- Leonora: A lemony goat-cheese camisole, from Spain