September 18

It's National Cheeseburger Day

Chile. Maytag. Mrs. Fields. Blue Cheeseburger. Fishtown. Pave. CBS. Franks. Bun. Tony Soprano.

Days Until. . .

Summer ends 5

Food Around The World

Today is Independence Day in Chile, which declared its intent to dislodge its Spanish colonizers today in 1818. Fast forward to recent times, and we find Chile emerging as a major producer of excellent wines at such attractive prices that they caught on quickly in the United States. Chilean wines have two unusual tales to tell The first is that it's one of the largest winegrowing area in the world growing French wine grapevines on their own roots. The phylloxera root louse has not (yet) arrived there, is why. Second, Chile recently discovered that a grape variety they've been calling Merlot is actually Carmenere, an old French variety that is probably extinct in France itself. All of that is secondary to the fact that Chilean wines, grown on volcanic soils at the same latitudes as the other great wine-producing areas of the world, are excellent.

Annals Of Cheese

Elmer Maytag was born today in 1883. He was the son of the founder of the Maytag Corporation, the maker of washing machines and other large household appliances. He is of special concern to us because, as president of the company, he started a dairy farm in Iowa in the 1940s. The farm--still owned by the Maytag family--developed a cow's-milk blue cheese that has become the leading such cheese in America. Eat some crumbles of Maytag blue today in his honor.

Annals Of Cookies

Today is the birthday, in 1956, of Debbi Fields, the founder of Mrs. Fields, whose cookie-baking stores in malls and downtowns all over America sell those soft, warm, gooey cookies everybody seems to love. She is as famous for having been a young mother with no business experience when she opened her first store in Palo Alto, outside San Francisco, in 1977. An apocryphal story, circulating on the Web for years, has it that a customer at a Mrs. Fields asked for the cookie recipe. She was told the price was one ninety-five, and bought it. A charge for $195 showed up on her. To get even, she published it all over the place. The same story is told about Neiman Marcus. Both versions are pure myth.

Today's Flavor

Today is National Blue Cheeseburger Day. The standard cheeseburger--the most popular main dish in America--is so common that more than a few makers of them are always on the lookout for an interesting variant on the idea. The one that's making the greatest inroads these day uses blue cheese in top of the beef. The hamburger restaurants trying to climb upscale have found this one particularly successful. Their customers are not only intrigued by the notion, but willing to spend a much higher price than they would for a cheeseburger with a slice of American, or even grated Cheddar.Like other cheeseburgers, this one gets much of its allure from the widespread notion that any dish can be improved by adding cheese. This is clearly not so, but in the absence of better ideas (hamburger joints, even the expensive ones, are not exactly on the cutting edge), cheese appears. And the more offbeat the cheese, the better.In my opinion the combination doesn't work well. The main problem is the heat of the burger. The flavors of melted blue cheese are completely out of whack. I like hamburgers, and I like blue cheese, but I'd rather separate them. Take the lettuce and tomatoes off the burger along with the blue cheese, make it into a side salad, and you have two dishes, both of which are better than the one they were made from.

Deft Dining Rule #766:

Anyone who eats blue cheeseburgers only does so when other people are watching. This is especially true if it's Maytag blue cheese on there.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Fishtown is an old suburb of Baltimore, Maryland, now on the I-695 beltway twelve miles northwest of the city center. It seems to have been named for a fish processing plant in the area, but no vestige of that remains. It's been swallowed up by a collection of upper-middle-class subdivisions, gated communities, and shopping malls. Fishtown has a golf course, but they don't call it Fishtown Country Club, you may best believe. The nearest restaurant of interest is the Al Pacino Cafe, which specializes in pizza from wood-burning ovens.

Edible Dictionary

pavé, [pah-VAY], n., French--A square or rectangle of a pastry, reminiscent of a paving stone--hence the name. The word is also (but less commonly) applied to such things as cheeses and patés. A chocolate pave is the opposite of a chocolate mousse, in being heavy and dense. Pavés are always cut sharply and regularly. The contents of the pavé need not be uniform; some pastries of that name are layered. It is true that a little bite will pack a lot of flavor. Next time your brownies don't rise, call them pavés.

People We'd Like To Dine With

James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano on the television show The Sopranos, was born today in 1961. He won all the awards one could win for that role, one of the most complex ever portrayed on the tube. Tony Soprano likes braciole, so I think the restaurant I'd pick to have dinner with him would be Impastato's.

Food On The Air

The Columbia Broadcasting System went on the air today in 1927. From its earliest days it broadcast many cooking shows. Many advertising dollars were attracted to such programs. The hosts would have to speak very slowly, repeating everything twice, so that listeners could get the recipes down. It made for stultifyingly boring listening. That's why I rarely give recipes on my radio food show. When I do, I run right through them, giving the general idea, and telling people to go online for the details. The last food show on CBS Radio was a five-minute daily shortie with Chef Mike Roy in the late 1960s. CBS announcers signed off all its radio shows in the Golden Age with, "This is CBS, the Co-LUM-biaah Broadcasting System."

Music To Eat Popsicles By

Today is the birthday, in 1944, of singer Michael Franks, whose most memorable song was Popsicle Toes. Interesting, unique style he had. . . but after listening to five or six of his songs in a row, you about had it for the next six months. Hey! He has a food name!

Food Namesakes

Speaking of franks, we begin with a rare double food name: Bun Cook, a pro hockey player in the Hall of Fame, born today in 1904. . . American classical composer Norman Dinnerstein started eating today in 1937. . . John Berger, an artist and art critic in England, gave his first opinions (perhaps while eating blue cheese!) today in 1926.

Words To Eat By

"A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make."--Advisors of Debbi Fields, who created Mrs. Fields' cookies. She was born today in 1956.

"Love, with very young people, is a heartless business. We drink at that age from thirst, or to get drunk; it is only later in life that we occupy ourselves with the individuality of our wine."--Isak Dinesen.