CHEESE OF CHOICE
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow once claimed she “would rather smoke crack than eat cheese from a can”, a hyperbolic example of snobbery.
As science would have it, Paltrow’s comparison contains an unexpected grain of truth. A new study from the University of Michigan has found a scientific reason for pizza being the most addictive food on the Yale Food Addiction Scale: It’s cheese.
Cheese contains a protein called casein, which releases opiates called casomorphins during digestion. Casomorphins trigger receptors in the brain for dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter also released by the ingestion of cocaine.
The cheese in a spray can referred to by Paltrow may be a far cry from a ripe, crumbly Gorgonzola or a soft, imported Camembert, but casein is the addictive culprit common to all three. Spray-cheese or gourmet fromage, American or otherwise-- lures us in and hooks us into eating more and more of it with its innumerable flavors and aromas.
Nowadays, you need not go to an imported cheese store to glamorize your wine and cheese gatherings. Brooklyn, home to the artisanal food craze, is dotted with cheese boutiques that feature cheeses made--or aged-- in or close to the borough, as well as an international array. Here are five of our favorites:
The Bedford Cheese Shop, 229 Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, was established in 2003. The shop works directly with farms in order to select cheeses at their “perfect peak”. A staff of expert cheesemongers is on hand to let you taste Bedford’s treats. In 2012, the Bedford Cheese Shop opened a second location in the Gramercy area of Manhattan, which includes a 15-foot cheese case, three aging facilities, and classes. New York-produced gourmet specialties include Essex Street Cheese Co.’s 16 month Comte, its Cravero Parmigiano Reggiano and a fine round Brabander.
Stinky Brooklyn, 215 Smith Street, sells a variety of charcuterie as well as cheese. Try pairing Middlebury Blue or Reading Raclette with Speck (similar to prosciutto) or Jamon Serrano.
Valley Shepherd, 211 7th Avenue, is the outpost for a New Jersey creamery offering goat, sheep and cow’s milk cheeses, plus other artisanal food items, including homemade pasta. The carb and cheese addict’s favorite comfort food, the old-fashioned grilled cheese sandwich, is also served.
Greenpoint Cheese & Meat, 192 Driggs Avenue, is a cozy food shop offering locally sourced cured meats and cheeses. Sandwiches are made fresh; olive bread is a specialty.
Collucio & Sons, 1214 60th Street is a classic Italian importer of cheeses, pastas, oils and other staples of Italian cooking.
Having given readers the 411 on cheese in Brooklyn, let’s dip (sorry for the pun!) from fancy-schmancy to my own predilection for an ancestor of the delicious canned snack--I assume she meant a squirt of Kraft’s spray-can Easy Cheese-- so maligned by Gwyneth Paltrow: Kraft’s Velveeta Cheese. When I Googled Velveeta, I was amazed to discover that the creamy cheese product is a venerable part of American culinary history.
Invented in the early 1900s on his stove-top in Monroe, New York by Swiss immigrant Emil Frey, Velveeta was purchased in 1927 by Kraft, who continued to use Frey’s clever moniker--Velveeta--in its marketing materials. Marketed originally as a healthy food, Velveeta received the American Medical Association’s stamp of approval, the AMA claiming that Velveeta had all the nutritional qualities to promote “firm flesh”. The product was a runaway hit in Germany, where it was called Velveta.
In the 1950s, when Kraft came out with pre-sliced cheese, it began promoting Velveeta as a dip and a sauce. In January 2014, just before the Super Bowl, Velveeta announced a shortage, causing nothing short of a panic among devoted hordes of snackers. Kraft embraced the “Cheesepocalypse”, announcing Velveeta to be our nation’s most precious commodity: “Liquid Gold”.
The research and literature on cheese addiction are fairly new, but generalized food addiction is well documented, including by the DSM-V, the Bible of psychiatric disorders. I was amused to learn that, in addition to binge eating, compulsive overeaters may also engage in “grazing” behavior, during which they eat continuously and compulsively throughout the day. To my knowledge, there has not yet been a televised intervention of a food addict, but the comic relief of such a broadcast ought to be explored, especially in the rich and creamy realm of cheese.
Whether your cheese of choice is a Val-de-Marne triple-cream Grand Vatel or a classic Velveeta, an intervention, staged, perhaps, at Stinky Brooklyn, would be an uncharacteristically opulent affair. For the cheese addict, unlike the crackhead, is likely to be fleshy and rosy-cheeked rather than pale, gaunt and famished-looking.
Let Paltrow smoke crack; I’ll imbibe my casein through Easy Cheese: safe, legal, yet tasting, ever so faintly, of the hood.