Sunday, January 4, 2009

HOOP CHEESE

I never knew the big wheels of heavy, golden, grocer-cut-a-wedge-for-you cheese as anything but Hoop Cheese until we moved here. And I find that most mentions of it bring about a puzzled look, accompanied by an, "OH, do you mean RAT TRAP CHEESE?"


And I guess I do. We'd discussed it on a cooking site I belonged to, and I think I told them everything I knew about it. I read back over the post, and it's voluble, to say the least:


Rat-trap/Hoop Cheese is exactly what you'd think---a goldy yellowy orange of a shade unknown in nature. Called HOOOOOP cheese by almost everyone I know, it springs full-blown from the brow of one of the lesser gods, one of the not-quite-graduated minor deities who still goofs up now and again, thus his relegation to cheese-springing and an occasional cat-in-a-tree snafu which goes unnoticed, except for irritating the cat.


The cheese is made of no natural product known to man---it has the texture of Play-Doh and comes in a box. The box is round and pale, made of thinly-shaved wood, which over the days of its residence atop the butcher case grows greasily stained and takes on the appearance of a harlot's hatbox, roughly handled and none too clean.



And it's found mostly in environments worthy of its long-time appeal and circumstance---small grocery stores, their flappy-screen-door heralding the humble delights within, and special places off the path, whose clientele will possibly enlighten you as to the best place for ribs or catfish or that sixties fishin' lure you've been wanting to add to your collection---where you step out onto gravel and the scent of pit-smoke or enticing frying aromas accost you in the parking lot and draw you into their thrall.
You ask about the cheese. Lid is popped loose, laid aside. Rustle of paper, removal of great wheel of cheese, worthy of a comic-book picnic, alongside the winebottle, roast chicken and basket of fruit.



BIIIIG knife wielded, slivering off a see-through piece the size of a bank card, which is proffered on a knifetip like a saber. You sample, munching thoughtfully, pondering things, and nod. "Bout a pound," you say. The huge knife descends, slicing through the gummy cake to bring forth a golden wedge pre-touched by Midas.



Onto paper, onto scale. You rustle it home in the sack, breaking off a crumble now and then as you put away the groceries. It's a perfect topping for a soda-cracker, sliced thin and almost square to fit, and the best accompaniment is an ice-cold Co-Cola, fished from the ice-and-frigid-water of a cooler alongside a fishing hole or up a deerstand.
Carried all day in the pocket of a huntin' coat, with a sleeve of Premiums and a couple of juice-heavy Satsumas---that's a picnic easy to tote and nice to eat. Sometimes by lunch, hip-warmth and weather have heated the chunk to an almost-transparent state, with little dews of oily sweat appearing across the surface. And leaving it uncovered altogether will result in a leather you could make shoes out of---chewy and rich with all the goodness distilled into that one mouthful of cheese-jerky.



It does make a good rat-lure, if you have the need. A piece of that speared on the little catch-doohickey of a mousetrap has been the downfall of many a small rodent, with the siren-call of the aroma calling them from their little mouse-duties. And the good rich goodness of that heavy, waxy cheese---any mouse would think it worth the price.
The taste is incomparable to anything in any cook's lexicon. It's rich and homey and nutty and of a texture that calls for one-more-bite. Hoop cheese, rat-trap cheese, just cheese---as it's the only game in town in some stores in the South---it's maybe an acquired taste. But it's addictive, and I'm glad there's a bit left in the fridge.

Then another friend started THIS whole thread:

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=112660

And that's all I got to say about THAAAAT.

1 comment:

Ondine said...

Oh, yum.

I looove a good, rich, sharp cheese.