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Cheese, Please…The Cook Considers The Pleasures of Bread and Cheese

The Cook

Mention "Switzerland", and what images come to mind? Cuckoo clocks, cows, chocolate, knives…and Heidi.

Of course! Heidi, that spunky little Swiss chick with the alpine roses in her cheeks, that black-haired heroine of Johanna Spyri's classic novel, in which Our Favourite Swiss Orphan melts the heart of even the most hard-hearted housekeeper.

And there's more than hearts melting in this alpine classic, a favourite of The Cook's childhood days…for Heidi's crusty Grandfather makes cheese, and he knows what to do with it. Others may remember the loft bed with the hole to look out at the sky, but The Cook's most vivid memory of Heidi is Toasted Bread and Cheese.

Consider Heidi's first meal after she arrives to live with her Grandfather:

"He went to the stove, lifted the big pot off the chain and put a smaller one in its place, then sat himself down on a three-legged stool and blew up the fire with the bellows till it was red and glowing. As the pot began to sing, he put a large piece of cheese on a toasting fork and moved it to and fro in front of the fire until it became golden yellow all over."

Of course, he serves it with a big mug of milk, which Heidi tells him is "The best I've ever drunk." After Grandfather refilled her mug, "she ate her bread and cheese, which tasted delicious, and every now and then she took a drink. She looked as happy and contented as anyone could be."

In fact, the bread and cheese (and of course, milk) provided by Grandfather have almost miraculous qualities. Indeed, Heidi very near wastes away during her time in Frankfurt -- nothing there, not even the finest food, can compare to Grandfather's simple mountain fare (with the possible exception of the soft white rolls Heidi brings for the local goatherd Peter's Granny). Indeed, even poor Clara (the sickly city girl to whom Heidi is sent to keep company) seems on the verge of Dire Irreversible Illness and Expiration until she arrives in Switzerland and Grandfather feeds her lots of bread and cheese and as many mugs of goat's milk as she can manage. Thanks to bread and cheese, Clara gets well and is able to get up and walk!

Of course, The Cook is biased in the extreme. The pleasures of eating Bread and Cheese are The Cook's idea of Culinary Nirvana. In this she is not alone, however. One of The Cook's favourite food writers, John Thorne, has written many a word on the subject of bread and cheese, alone and together (and The Cook was recently thrilled to discover that they both share a secret childhood memory and fondness for A Certain Brand Name Tomato Soup and Toasted Cheese Sandwiches).

John Thorne describes that Very British Bread and Cheese Institution, the "ploughman's lunch" thusly:

The ploughman's lunch is easily the most universal pub snack but it is often a travesty of its namesake: a slab of factory Cheddar, a piece of "French" bread, and some over-pickled onions. When ploughmen actually ate such a lunch -- then simply called "bait" -- the cheese would have been equal in size to the bread and both would have come from the farm whose fields were being ploughed. And the onion would have been both fresh and raw and eaten like an apple.


Not to be outdone, however, Thorne also has a "description"of Toasted Cheese on his website that would make Heidi's grandfather proud, though one suspects that That Venerable Gentleman would leave out the mustard, onion, and mushrooms that it contains.

But trust French chef Jacques Pépin (born in Bourg-en-Bresse, near The Cook's home base of Lyon, and home to The World's Best Chicken) to come up with a recipe that combines the best of both worlds: Bread and Cheese Soup.


Heidi Websites:

Enchanted Forest: This site contains links to anything and everything remotely related to Heidi, and includes research and teaching links, a Joanna Spyri timeline, and, oh bliss, oh joy, A Whole Page Devoted to Bread and Cheese, which includes a recipe for Cheese and Apple Toasts. Made With Cheddar, but there we are….


Assorted Cheese Links:

Want to be like Heidi's grandfather and make your own chèvre (goat's milk cheese)? Or eat chèvre toasts like Heidi? Learn all about chèvre from the folks at about.com: And finally, the site that claims to be the number one resource for cheese (though all of the Swiss cheeses listed here are cow's milk cheeses...sigh…)


The Outlaw Cook:

It is The Cook's Opinion that anything John Thorne writes is worth reading -- more information about his books, newsletter, Hawaiian shirts, and midnight snacks can be found at the Outlaw Cook website.


Bibliographic Information

Spyri, Johanna. Heidi. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. ISBN 0689839626. With a foreword by Eloise McGraw.

Heidi is also available online at Project Gutenberg as an e-text


Volume 5, Issue 1, The Looking Glass, 2001

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Cheese, Please…The Cook Considers The Pleasures of Bread and Cheese" © The Cook, 2001
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