Ron Wood of Rolling Stones fame was waving his slender Armani clad arms in the air to get my attention. I dashed over to see what I could do and leaned down to inquire. Mr. Wood held up a butter knife laden with some softening English Stilton and said in a thick English accent, "Hey Mate…ya think ya can spot me some crack-ers?" His fellow guests, Charlie Watts and their respective wives looked at me with equally imploring eyes. "You bet", I said, "on the way!"

The Cheese trolley or cheese cart has been getting more mileage on its very own "Steel Wheels Tour" in American restaurants more than ever before. By some estimation the number of artisanal cheese-makers in the United States has grown to over 300 since the early 1990's. If American wines are any indicator, this is going to seem like a drop in the milk bucket in another ten years. Subject to the elements of time, terroir, craftsmanship and passion, the transformation from milk to cheese should be no different than that of grape juice to vino. Most importantly, the veil has been lifted…and this one is made of cheesecloth. Many Americans are no longer willing to settle for the same old mass produced European Swiss, Munster, Brie, and Cheddar that hoodwinked us back in the whiskey 'a go go' 1950's and '60's, along with mediocre Chablis, Burgundy and Champagne.

Time and truth have come together in delicious new ways. I was cooking with my friend Charlie Trotter in Chicago not too long ago, along with a host of visiting chefs. After our duties were fulfilled, wine glasses and giant platters of cheese appeared to bridge the gap created by 12 hours of continuous prep and cooking. The talk led to who was buying what cheese from whom. Small producers from out of the way places were scribbled on torn scraps of menu paper. Within a week surprised cheese makers were getting calls from chefs they'd only read about.

When I offered some of this fine American cheese to the Stones, they smiled and dug back into the English Stilton. Old habits die hard.

I'm Norman Van Aken and that's my "Word on Food".



Copyright © by Norman Van Aken, 2002
Works consulted: Memory Lane.