Mold and Fungus – Yum!

I understand that eating crickets (possibly chocolate-covered) is a recent foodie thing.(1) I’m in no hurry to try it, despite what I see on the Food Network.

But I must admit that two of my favorite foods are mold and fungus.(2)

Cheese would not exist without mold (or bacteria, or curdling, or the lining of various animals’ stomachs), and mushrooms are fungus, plain and simple. Still, most people would find it odd to see a frittata recipe that said, “Add chopped fungus, then grate moldy milk over the top.”

Blue cheese slices closeupI believe, however, that cheese should keep its origins secret. That is to say, I do not like cheese that reminds me that it has moldy origins. As far as I’m concerned, blue veins belong beneath aging skin, and are not for human consumption. And nothing that smells like old sweat socks, including old sweat socks, should be put in my mouth.

That being said, American, Swiss, colby, jack, muenster, havarti, boursin, mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta, gouda, marscapone, provolone, asiago, feta, neufchâtel, paneer, brick, farmer, brie, and the entire family of cheddars are welcome on my palate or in my recipes. In fact, all my recipes contain the instruction, “Add way too much cheese.”(3)

The world should come with too much cheese. I’ve tried to think of a food that isn’t better with cheese, and aside from Asian dishes, all I’ve come up with is ice cream. Now that I think about it, though, I can picture brie and blueberry ice cream being worth a try. Or maybe cheddar and bacon.

I suspect my love of cheese springs from a childhood in a meat-and-potato, cheese-poor home. And when I say “cheese-poor,” I mean “poor cheese” –  Velveeta, those rubbery orange bricks good only for grilled cheese sandwiches and giving pills to gullible dogs.

Photo by Dan Reily
Photo by Dan Reily

The other category of dubious food is fungus. Mushrooms have two marks mark against them for squeamish eaters: They are fungi and they grow in manure.(4)

Our family kitchen also lacked mushrooms, which I didn’t discover until I read Lord of the Rings and learned that they were hobbits’ favorite food. After cautiously trying a few at salad bars, I was a convert.(5) Now I like them raw, marinated, sautéed in butter or wine, or in sauces and gravies – morels, chanterelles, woodear, oyster, cremini, shitake, porcini, or, failing all else, button mushrooms.

These days my favorite fungus is the mighty, meaty portobello. I introduced my husband to these at an Italian restaurant. I informed him that we were having the stuffed portobello as an appetizer, and that he was not allowed to ask the server how many were in an order. I knew his head would explode if he found out that one mushroom cap equaled a serving. When it arrived, imposing and luscious and overflowing with bread crumbs and mold, his taste buds exploded with delight instead.

You may deduce from all this that one of my favorite foods is a pizza with a six-cheese blend and double mushrooms, which I hardly ever get, as my husband is a dedicated carnivore and a fan of veggies.(6)

In fact, I believe mushroom pizza is nature’s nearly-perfect food. I say “nearly perfect,” because it does not contain all four of the food groups: salty, sticky, sweet, and crunchy.(7) Using those criteria, nature’s perfect food is the chocolate-covered pretzel – hold the crickets, please. It contains no cheese or mushrooms, but nothing’s that perfect. You could always eat it for dessert. No, wait, the perfect dessert is a cheese plate.

 

(1) Although it’s been a thing in many countries for thousands of years. They skip the chocolate in favor of toasting, I believe.

(2) Not the sort that one finds in unsavory locker rooms, though.

(3) It’s about the only way I get calcium, aside from the little chewy supplements.

(4) A relative once had a job picking mushrooms in a cave, a job for which, unsurprisingly, no experience is required. She didn’t last a day. I thought about getting her one of those grow-your-own mushroom kits for Christmas, but restrained myself. Now I wish I hadn’t.

(5) During my Girl Scout days, I would occasionally forage for delectable, easily identifiable morels, but now I indulge in mushrooms for which other people can be blamed, and sued, if I die.

(6) Really, he’ll eat anything you put in front of him, except veal (for ethical reasons). He even taught himself to tolerate okra, which he formerly hated. I don’t understand why he did this, but perhaps it was an exercise in overcoming prejudice, or maybe sliminess.

(7) You can get the crunchy element by making a frico, or by overbaking mac-n-cheese, which I heartily recommend.

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