Gastronomic stimulus package

Splurge a little at the Cheese Iron
By TODD RICHARD  |  April 30, 2008

The Cheese Iron | 200 US Rte 1, Suite 300, Scarborough | 207.883.4054

Total $28.02
Pears $4.20
Hopler Gruner Veltliner $11.99
Baguette $2.99
Pave d’Auge $4.94
Finocchiona $3.90
Tax refunds are in the mail, and so are those other I’ll-believe-them-when-I-see-them stimulus checks. This, coupled with the thaw and other natural stimulus packages, write a recipe for the spoils of spring: maturing cheeses, bright wines, green garlic ramps, and outdoor eating. A perfect picnic is as close as those checks in the mail, so throw caution to the wind and go shopping now, combining forces for a decadent, sun-celebrating bite al fresco. The Cheese Iron, on Route 1 in Scarborough, gives plenty of opportunities to crush a 20 and then some.

Recent additions to the gourmet fray in Greater Portland, owners Vincent Maniaci and Jill Dutton have entered the Maine market via Austin, Texas, though they have other roots closer (Boston and Nantucket). Cheese and wine take center stage here, but the supporting roles played by the selection of cured meats, grocery items, and fresh produce are still prominently featured. A pile of ripe pears sits atop a table near the entrance, their sweetness balanced by a samples of sharp aged cheeses sitting nearby. Standard Baking supplies baguettes and focaccia, displayed behind the register. At the far end, a windowed room resembling a cigar humidor is the cheese cave, where cheesemaster Maniaci supervises the maturing process. While this might sound as exciting as watching paint dry, to a true cheese fanatic, tasting these works-in-progress is the pinnacle of the shopping experience.

Among my personal favorite wines for spring are Spanish Ruedas, and the Cheese Iron has a few outstanding representatives from this region. The Basa Rueda ($12.99) was my first true Spanish love, and is joined here by the Ermita de Nieve 2006 Rueda, at the same price. Light and refined, a spring-like characteristic is apparent in these wines. Unoaked Chardonnays have increased in popularity, and the 2006 Monjardin ($12.99) is not often seen amongst the other more well-known labels. Dutton recommends the Hopler Gruner Veltliner, which at $11.99 is an easy buy. This grape, the pride of Austria, seemed to be the “it” varietal last year in many national circles, and I rebelliously (and foolishly) avoided it. This particular bottle bursts with honeyed apple and light mineral notes and will definitely be accompanying this picnic.

If the intent is to head right to your backyard for your humble feast, then obviously opt for meats that are ready to eat. The pâtés range from $11.99 for the green peppercorn “country” variety, up to $15.99 a pound. If spreadable meat just isn’t your thing, the Finocchiona, a cured sausage flecked with fennel seeds, is delicious, especially in paper-thin, virtually translucent slices. The meats, like the cheeses, are priced in quarter-pound portions, sized just right for an outing. These all average about $5 each, with many falling around $4, which allows for easy budgeting. Selecting a cheese from the generous display proves to be too much of a challenge to face alone. After a staff recommendation and sample, the Pave d’Auge wins out. This relatively stinky and very creamy cow’s-milk cheese is luxurious and epitomizes the kind of decadence and celebration that spring and tax refunds embody.

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