NCheeseAA Round Of 64: The Deli Draw
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3 GruyÃ¨re vs. 15 Taleggio. Managing to be both sharp and fruity — that rare whiff of pineapple is classic — cave-aged GruyÃ¨re is top of its game when melted. Of course, if you leave it raw, you get to crunch through those awesome protein (not salt) crystals. Butting heads with the Swiss miss, we have Taleggio, one of the stickiest, beefiest, and most unctuous cheeses out there. Not only that, Taleggio has what I like to call "stank cred."
Nutshelled, people like to show how hardcore they are by professing to eat only the stenchiest of cheeses. Taleggio is macho cheese and will beat GruyÃ¨re's fruity ass.
5 Muenster vs. 12 Swiss/Emmenthaler. Swiss/Emmenthaler is the classic cartoon cheese; it's all big and yellow with those huge holes — "eyes," to the Ph.cheesed — and it's GruyÃ¨re's sour partner in classic fondue. For some reason, it also seems to attract the weight-conscious, so that could either make it a heavy contender for the win or handicap it as "diet cheese." Creamy and non-threatening, American Muenster melts on hot sandwiches a fair treat, snacks well with dill pickles, and is pretty much the cheese next door. Plus, it's fun to say, "Moooonster!" Muenster takes this one home and lays it on some mustard-slathered toast.
2 Provolone vs. 6 Havarti. Havarti is a fine cheese; the dill kind, you'll notice, is always the first type of cube to disappear from the pyramid o' cheese at a wedding's cocktail hour. That said, provolone is the sandwich gold standard: salty, dense, the Astaire to the Jersey tomato's Rogers. Pretty peppy opponent for it here in the first round, but The 'Lone is going to trample most of its opposition, starting now.
1 Mozzarella vs. 9 Manchego. It's ranked numero uno for a reason, but good old mootzadell' has its work cut out for it against The Cheese Of La Mancha, because, although mozzarella is a staple, the same blank-slate quality that makes it so cookable and popular may work against it in a desert-island-cheese situation. One cheese for the rest of your sandy-swimsuited life: the reliable cross-platform performer, or the strong personality? My vote sort of depends on whether my desert island serves dry Riesling. Your votes will probably pass El Mozzo through to the next round.
7 Fontina vs. 10 Ricotta. People, we got a bland-off here. As far as I'm concerned, the only time the Piedmontese Fontina is rendered tasty is when it's melted down and covered in white truffle oil for a cardoon dip. On the other hand, ricotta is one of those wet, mushy cheeses that scores only when used as an ingredient among a bunch of other things. It doesn't bring flavor so much as it does texture. This isn't a match-up, it's a mehtch-up — but ricotta gets my shrug.
14 Limburger vs. 4 Asiago. A more lopsided contest than the rankings might indicate, unless staunch defenders of Limburger's stanky honor join the battle big-time — each cheese is familiar even to non-foodies, but to say Limburger has an image problem is to understate the case rather dramatically (and with nostrils pointedly held closed, pinky aloft). Asiago is a multi-use workhorse and a good bet to go far in its draw, and some folks really can't tolerate what my sister-in-law calls "cat-pee cheese," but I hope Limburger puts up at least a nominal fight against a rival I'm starting to find overused and unimaginative.
13 Double Gloucester vs. 16 Mascarpone. It's hard to fathom how the cheese that gets rolled down an English hillside in an annual cheese-rolling festival could ever lose out tiramisu filling. And yet, when you snack on a fingerful of pure white, non-gritty mascarpone, it's hard to imagine ever eating anything else. These are two vastly different cheeses from two totally different countries, but I'm going to say that mascarpone's 9 1/2 Weeks potential will outstrip Double Gloucester's mellow crumble.
11 Pecorino Romano vs. 8 Port Salut. I can't wait to see how this one plays out, because it's like comparing apples and oranges. Or, really, apples and dictionaries. Port Salut has the rare distinction of pairing perfectly, in my opinion, with every cracker you can throw at it; the combination of creaminess and sharpness makes it one of my favorites. But then you've got a plate of linguine al dente with P.R. and fresh black pepper: simple and perfect. Too close to call.