Best Cheese Counter - 2004
Whole Foods Market
Your sweetie telephones to request that you swing by Whole Foods on your way home from work and pick up a half-pound of Ossau-Iraty. "It's a Basque cheese from the French Pyrenees," your little Lemon Drop says helpfully, "a sheep's-milk cheese with a grayish-orange rind." She spells it for you, then adds, "They might not have it. If they don't, I guess you can get Manchego instead," in a tone of voice that makes it clear that whatever it might entail, you will come home with half a pound of that French cheese; no mere Manchego for you, no sir. You hang up, and pause for a moment to thank the Fates for hooking you up with a gourmet cook. It is, you concede -- you, who are constitutionally incapable of properly boiling an egg -- infinitely more than you deserve. Two hours later, as you walk into Whole Foods, you realize you've completely forgotten the name of the Pyrenees cheese! You're too proud to call your Lamb Chop and admit your absentmindedness, but you're far from panicking: You'll simply browse till you see the one with that weird-sounding name. How hard can that be? You stride confidently to the cheese counter -- and blanch. Sweet mother of God! There must be 200 cheeses here! Trembling, you commence the process of elimination. It wasn't Cypress Grove Midnight Moon, triple-cream Explorateur or Neal's Yard Cheddar. Ditto Comté, Swiss Raclette, kasseri, Asiago and Rothkäse Rofumo. Pecorino Pepato? Definitely not. Nor ricotta salata. Idiazabal? That could be it -- but no, the little sign in front of it says that one comes from Spain, and you're looking for the French Pyrenees. Irish Dubliner? Nope. (Wait a minute: Are there really Basques in France?) Drunken Goat -- oh, come on. Tête de Moine? Not even close. Just as you're doing the mental coin toss -- admit your ignorance to one of the helpful-looking Whole Foods staffers or concede defeat and call Sweet Pea -- you spy, out of the corner of your eye, off to the right of the produce department, a display table loaded down with orange-rinded wheels of cheese. You can't read the sign, but as you move closer you can see it's an odd name. Can it be? This isn't possible -- yet there it is: Ossau-Iraty! Kilos and kilos and kilos of it! The most obscure cheese in all of France, and you could bring home enough to fill a bathtub! You settle for the half-pound. On your way to the checkout, you pause in the amply stocked wine department long enough to do a little victory dance and snag a bottle of Rioja. You rascal, you.