Monday, November 21, 2011

Spread the Holiday Love

The piquant smell of a just-cracked black label Tillamook Extra-Sharp Cheddar, a dribble of fresh lime juice, a generous squeeze of spicy horseradish. Thanksgiving must be this week! I've been making this sharp cheese spread for about two decades, since I was just a kid. Only four ingredients, there is one rule that is the most important and most difficult to follow: the spread must sit in the fridge at least 24 hours. Three days? Even better. The longer it sits, the more it melds together. So, once you start thawing the turkey, it's time to make cheese spread.

This recipe was featured in a memoir essay I wrote this semester, so I thought I'd feature that here with the recipe.

From "The Family You Choose"

While I was growing up, the holiday high season stretched from Halloween to Christmas Day. Each special occasion was marked by signature dishes, with tastes becoming ubiquitous for the day they were served. I loved how the food accented the seasons, something as simple as smell could evoke the entire scene: warm spices bathing in cider and I was back at the pumpkin patch, peppermint and chocolate resurrected the downtown Seattle Nordstrom’s Christmas windows, where Brianna and I waited in itchy petticoats to have our picture taken with Santa. From the time I could reach the kitchen counter, I wanted to help create the magic. My first holiday dish was from a kid’s cookbook that my mom ordered me from the Current catalog. A pair of big, spiral-bound books in heavy laminated paper (as the printer had anticipated splatters and spills) arrived in the mail. One was a book of recipes from around the world, with each two-page spread devoted to a different country. A little story above the menu boiled the culinary histories of each nation down to a child-sized soundbite, such as the enchanting origins of French toast: One night, two children were sent to bed without dinner by their parents. Their butler, taking pity on the poor dears, got out some old bread and eggs, fried it up, and French toast was born! This raised so many questions for me: what had the children done to deserve such cruel punishment? Was the butler’s betrayal of his employers discovered? The second book was simpler, organizing itself around the holidays of the year versus world cultures. The Thanksgiving page, for instance, kept concepts simple, by providing only a couple appetizers and side dishes to “help Mom out.” One in particular caught my eye with the beautiful words extra sharp cheddar cheese. The recipe was for tangy cheese spread meant to be served on Ritz crackers.
                “It has horseradish, though,” I told Mom, handing her the book and pointing to the ingredients in questions. “And is sharp cheese bad?”
                “Sharp cheese is the best kind!” she said, jotting my ingredients next to her own on the long, scroll-like grocery list. “There’s only a little horseradish in it, and when you mix it with everything else and let it sit, the ingredients all marinate and mellow together to become a whole other thing.” In the kitchen, Mom looked like Snow White baking pies, minus the meddling birds. Black hair with a hint of a wave cut just above her shoulders and calm, even lips that she marked with lipstick only when we were headed out or when company was coming in. Her hands stayed constantly cool and smooth to the touch, like brushing against fine silk on a summer evening. I have no idea how she keeps her hands so pristine: nearly as many dishes washed, cheese grated and toaster plucks later and mine are dry, cracked and scarred, with broken nails and eczema patches. No matter how much she teaches me, there are still the things about her that seem enchanted.
When I was eight and determined to make the first batch of tangy cheese spread, Mom and I went to Fred Meyer together for groceries, where she showed me that distinct, tangy Tillamook Special Reserve Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese by the titillating black wrapper with a ribbon of red around the middle. The horseradish, pale and pungent, and rendered simply complimentary when calmed by the lemon juice and sweet cream butter. Once we were home she fished the box cheese grater out from underneath the counter and let me shred the entire loaf, noting at the end how the small chunk of cheese transformed into exactly two cups, a rule of thumb now rooted in my memory. A good mix, a few days in the fridge, and my spread was outshining the relish tray in the appetizer round. You’ll have to share your secret recipe, the grown-ups winked, slathering up another Ritz.
With that first success, I was convinced—a good recipe was a passport to adoration.

Thanksgiving Sharp Cheese Spread
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
10 oz shredded Tillamook Extra-Sharp Cheddar Cheese, grated
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp prepared horseradish

Mix all ingredients together with a fork until well-blended. Refrigerate at least 24 hours before serving, up to 3-4 days. Serve with your favorite sturdy cracker or crostini.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe Tabitha, and including Tillamook Cheese! It sounds super delicious and I'm sure our fans are excited to give it a try. I appreciate your love and support of Tillamook.