Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Meaning of Epoisses

"Époisses?" asked my 8-year old.

That was her first word today, even before "Good Morning". Since she started speaking (at the tender age of 6 months), very often her first word on waking up is a food word. When she was three, she often greeted me with "Waffles?" Pancakes had preceded waffles and now, of course, we were getting more refined.

Époisses. Currently her favorite cheese. I discovered it at a wine & cheese pairing a few months ago at my favorite gourmet food store, Surfas ( in Culver City. I took it home to share with my family along with two other cheeses that I had enjoyed at the pairing, some fresh walnut-date bread and a fabulously tart-sweet balsamic vinegar-strawberry preserve from Italy.

My daughter enjoyed tasting it all but what she could not get enough of was the soft, pungent, slightly salty cheese from Burgundy. Apparently Napoleon was a fan of Époisses. I thought it was fantastically good, more complex than Brie or Camembert, a cheese you could keep on spreading on bread and devouring. With its distinctive strong smell, however, it was not quite the cheese I expected an 8-year old to dream of and wake up requesting.

But I should not have forgotten that at 9 months she ate artichokes with relish. At three, she tried bitter fenugreek greens cooked in the style traditional to my native state, Maharashtra (on India's west coast) and liked them, a dish I would never have eaten at that age though as an adult I appreciate its complex, bitter flavor!

It was a beautiful shared meal, the Époisses evening, as we watched with delight her first bite, the ‘Umm’ I knew she would instantly utter, her commentary as she tried the other two cheeses and compared them, unfavorably to the Époisses, and her final dedicated consumption of her favorite.

Now every time I am at Surfas, I must stop at the cheese counter and pick up another wedge. One day it was so wonderfully runny that when the round was cut open, it literally started dripping off the cutting board.

What a ferment my daughter is fortunate to grow up in and around. “Global foods”, “seasonal”, “local”, “organic”, “made from scratch”, these are the words she hears and experiences on a daily basis. She can taste a French cheese one day and eat a Marathi vegetable the next with equal enthusiasm.

For her, it really is a Shared Table, shared not only with her parents at home or her friends at school but also with an anonymous French cheese maker, with the California farmers whose fresh fruit she samples every week at our favorite farmers' market, with the recipes from her great-grand-mothers (look out for more about these), with her taste buds inherited from many families and regions in India.

Can there be a better way to learn about agriculture, economics, environmental consciousness, ethnicity and cultures, about the world?

Some months ago, I taught my first multi generational cooking class to 8 year olds, some of their mothers, grandmothers and one grandfather! Food Trippin' Across Indiais a class I teach through my cooking school, Un-Curry, and my students are usually adults.

But here was a group of kids and they loved every minute of it. They tasted all the spices, the sweet jaggery and the sour tamarind; they pounded cumin and coriander seed enthusiastically in a mortar and pestle; they watched as I popped mustard seeds and curry leaves into hot oil and reveled in the aromas, marveling as vegetables they might ordinarily refuse to touch were transformed into flavorful dishes they could not wait to taste.

Somehow, it all comes down to food, doesn't it? And to sharing because when we share food, sit down to a well-cooked meal at home or at a favorite restaurant, exchange recipes or take a cooking class, we are not only learning about each other but about ourselves, sharing a part of our wishes and desires, our likes and dislikes.... So in this blog, at this shared table, I want to share my world which is made up of food experiences here in California, back home in India and in other parts of the world. Please join me. Bon Appétit.