002: Hands and Cheese

Get it? We're so tired.

Part I: Happy Tuesday! I guess it’s Tuesday! 

Christine: How are we all doing this week? Are you having a good Tuesday? Did you know before reading this that it’s Tuesday?  

I, for one, am tired. I’m cranky. I need to check out healthcare plans in the next 18 hours if I don’t want to be uninsured for another year, but what I really want to do is take a nap or read a book.

So, instead of doing any of those things, I opened Instagram. I flipped through a few stories, then read one on buzzy celebrity gossip account DeuxMoi claiming Drake is a bad tipper. The slide proceeded to make fun of him for being a fan of white wine spritzers, because wow how emasculating to have a favorite drink that’s not Scotch.

K. EVERYONE should be tipping, especially wealthy celebrities. But can we stop gendering alcohol, please? Drinking red wine does not make you masc or tough. Drinking wine with residual sugar does not make you girly or wimpy. Wine spritzers are delightful, no matter your gender. In Germany, they’re called Schorle and everyone pounds them in the summer.

Speaking of sweetness, by the way, your Negroni or hipster-Wall-Street Brooklyn IPA probably has more sugar than that glass of Riesling you think is too sweet. In beer and cocktails, we think of sweetness as an element of balance (if we think of it at all!), but somehow decided that even the tiniest bit of sweetness makes wine revolting.

Of course you should drink what you enjoy. Of course. But, if you keep an open mind, you’ll probably discover that you enjoy things that you hadn’t ever given a chance. Leave Drake alone about the white wine spritzers. Buy a bottle of off-dry Riesling. Tax the super rich. Now, let’s talk about cheese. 

Part II: A New-Old Cheese 

Introducing folks to new cheeses is my second favorite thing about my job. My first favorite thing is reintroducing people to cheese they thought they knew, and watching them fall in love with said cheese.

In the grand scheme of things, I suppose being delighted by cheese is a rather small deal, but I think it’s an important reminder of the tiny ways that life can surprise us. Keeping an open mind is important, and so are small delights.  

So, here’s a cheese that I think will delight you. Meet Solo di Bruna Parmigiano Reggiano.

If you’re not clear on the difference between Parmesan and Parmigiano Reggiano, here is a guide that I wrote for AllRecipes. But, if you really want to understand how they’re different, buy a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano and a hunk of BelGioso Parmesan and taste them back-to-back. Parmesan is fine, Parmigiano Reggiano is a majestic food product that’s been made approximately the same way since the middle ages and deserves your respect. 

Solo di Bruna takes that respect for—one might say obsession with—tradition one step further. The funny thing about Parmigiano Reggiano, the king of cheeses, is that it too was once a knock-off. When Switzerland was part of the Roman empire, the Romans took a liking to a granular Swiss cheese called Sbrinz (still around today, still a great cheese), made with the milk of Swiss Brown cows. 

Important to note here, friends, that “Brown cows” are an actual breed, not just cows that are a different color! Anyway, back to the story! 

The Romans, inspired by Sbrinz, took the recipe and some Brown cows back to Italy and started making their own version. That cheese is what we now know as Parmigiano Reggiano.

Cheese nerds geek out about breeds of cows/goats/sheep like wine nerds geek out about different grapes or grape clones. That is to say, using milk from a different breed changes the texture, flavor, and overall experience.

In this case, the Brown Cow milk has a higher casein—a type of milk protein— content that lends the final cheese a more brown buttery, almost butterscotchy flavor. It has the same brothiness and bonkers umami that you’ll find in other real-deal Parm, just more balanced. Not to say that it has the same sweetness as, say, an aged gouda, it just brings a little something extra to an already-pretty-extra cheese.

Brown cows make less milk than other cow breeds, so most producers have switched over to breeds like Holsteins. Of the 350ish producers who make P Reg, less than 2% of them make Solo Di Bruna, the version exclusively made with Brown cow milk. It’s not impossible to find in the US, but not easy either (probably easiest to get it online, or you could call a cheese shop near you).  

I’m firmly in the camp of “you should enjoy your cheese as you damn well please,” but I’m going to be uncharacteristically proscriptive here—don’t cook with this stuff. I mean, sure, you can. But, it’d be like cracking a bottle of old red Burgundy from the cellar to make Boeuf bourguignon. This is a special cheese and it deserves to be enjoyed as the star of the show, not just as an ingredient. 

Enjoy it at room temperature (the ideal temperature for all cheese, btw), using a paring or parm knife to break off bite-size chunks. Marvelous with Barolo, Prosecco, a negroni, mezcal, a mai tai, whatever you love drinking the most. I had a chunk last night with a tiny dram of Laphroaig and it was exactly what I needed.

Hang out with this cheese like you’d hang out with a new crush--tuned in, unhurriedly, and ready to be delighted. 

Note: The story I just told you is a cheese legend that I’ve heard many times, but as I’m looking for documentation, I’m not finding a lot on the Romans ripping off Sbrinz and instead am finding lots of stuff about monks. 
The fact remains that Swiss Brown cow milk was exclusively used for Parm production in the Middle Ages, and Sbrinz (made similarly + with Swiss Brown cow milk) has been made since the Celts, i.e. way before the Middle Ages. So, Sbrinz definitely came first and Parm definitely was suspiciously similar to it, but this tale may have been spun as a way to fill in the blanks, rather than an actual recounting of documented events. 
Regardless, go try it! You’ll like it!

Part III: The State of My Hands

Taylore: Hello, hello. I’m with Christine, the crankiness is palpable. But I did curl my hair to just to feel something, and it worked! Thanks to this workable hairspray, this texturizer, and this dry volume spray, I look like a person with places to go (I’m not.)

If you follow us on IG (please follow us on IG), you might have seen the fried chicken sandwiches I recently made for my brother’s birthday. I highly recommend that recipe; the spiced oil you finish the chicken with is potent and delicious. For sides, I went with rosemary cornbread, sweet and sour slaw with a tangy dose of peach juice, and blistered garlic green beans. And for dessert… I burned myself. AGAIN, for what is likely the eight hundredth time this year, and now I can’t stop thinking about my hands.

I don’t have one of those faces that betrays me. I can usually turn it on—and off—when I need to; the mask is a choice. But my hands always give me away: I’ve been a nail biter for my entire life, and it’s always been impossible to hide. Growing up, I would reduce them to nubs pre-standardized test, or peel my cuticles so far back at cheerleading competitions that I’d leave blood on my bare legs. Any attempt to grow my nails out into feminine almonds were thwarted by your standard high school embarrassments—and now, a decade later, a pandemic. Since I can’t put my hands near my face nearly as much, I pick my cuticles to the point of cruelty, then sizzle them in hand sanitizer. Simply put, I’m tearing my hands to shreds. 

This year, in addition to the typical wear-and-tear I put my fingers through, I’ve been clumsier (apparently not my fault, according to Amanda Mull at The Atlantic) and more negligent (my fault entirely). I drop wine glasses and end up with minuscule shards embedded in my palms as I clean, I grab baking pans and cast-iron skillets without oven mitts absentmindedly. When I moved over the summer, I sustained more packing tape gun-related slits and scrapes than any self-respecting adult should. And the signs of my carelessness are apparent, some more than others: I fell on my ripping-hot radiator in January (an invention of pandemics past, as it turns out!) which left my left hand and wrist blistered and weeping for weeks. Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to have dermatology and its lasers within reach in my industry (thanks, Dr. Zeichner) and through protective glasses, I watched the scars of my hungover negligence fade with a few flashes of green light. 

After a calendar year of chewing and picking and cauterizing, I’ve realized I’ve allowed my most forward-facing appendages to fall into disarray. My hands are far more indicative of how I’ve felt for much of 2020 than a mirror could ever be: raw and a little battered and forgetful of total comfort. So now I’m leaning into being gentler with them, and in turn, gentler with myself. 

Since I can’t head to JINsoon (my go-to salon) for a mani/pedi, I’ve been performing them on myself.  My regimen as of late includes velvety, fragrance-free creams from Buly 1803 and Nécessaire to nurture my dry knuckles; their chic tubes spruce up my dresser, too. Essie’s apricot-scented cuticle oil has been a staple of mine for years, and CND’s nail strengthener smells like almond cookies. As for polish, my fingers are tiny tributes to Manhattan. J. Hannah’s new collaboration with The Met includes a gilded pearl shade and gold foil reminiscent of tapestries one might find in a Versailles exhibition, and Death Valley Nails collabed with East Village cocktail bar Death & Co.—the site of one of the more momentous dates of my life—to create three moody hues swirling with fine shimmers that I’ve been mixing and matching. 

And though I’m not what one would call a ‘jewelry person,’ I wear the same three rings every day: the Mejuri croissant-inspired pinkie ring I ordered during an early pandemic shopping spree, a Claddagh from Dublin, and a garnet and gold band my late grandfather gifted me that I wear on my ring finger like a Southern debutante, purely because I haven’t been able to get it resized. That same grandfather bit his nails for 65 years, and then one day, he just quit—cold turkey. The least I can do is remember to oil my cuticles.