Watching a total eclipse of the sun may be a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. The August 21 solar eclipse passes through much of the continental United States, but its path lies far to the north of me. So my plan was to take the kids out of school, spend one day driving north and then another day driving back south, just so we could brag to other people that we saw the total eclipse for a few seconds. That was Plan A.
Eclipse path through North America. Source: NOAA.
So I managed to book a hotel in the eclipse belt, which wasn’t an easy task since they are quite full (and overpriced). In fact, the traffic on the interstate highways will be heavy, since so many people from population centers are driving to the same spots to see this much hyped eclipse. Since I booked a couple of months ago, my intended hotel has called me several times asking if I would cancel my reservation (since I assume they have jacked up the price since then and could get more for the room from someone else).
Yesterday, I gave them what they wanted. I cancelled my hotel reservation at the Acme Motel in Throckmorton Slough or whatever the place was called. I won’t be one of the people driving for hours to see the dark sun for a few seconds. I’m going to miss this eclipse.
I cancelled Plan A because no one else in my family wanted to go. My kids actually want to be in school that Monday, since the school year is just beginning and they aren’t bored with it yet. My wife said she needs to work that day and told me to watch the eclipse on TV. Then she suggested that I could drive to Idaho and watch the eclipse by myself. Wait, did she mean I should take a one-way trip to Idaho or come back afterwards?
My Plan A was a family trip. I don’t care about seeing the sun go dark for a few seconds; I simply hoped that my kids might care. Since they don’t, I’m not going to waste two days driving by myself. It’s on to Plan B: staying home.
My dog suggested we have an eclipse day party. I told him I might be the only one staying home with him that morning, so it might be a party for two. The dog doesn’t eat my food and I don’t eat his, so we had a tough time agreeing on a menu. In the end, we went with fruit and cheese, which both of us will eat.
My dog likes a little fruit. Apples, pears, and stone fruits seem to appeal to him. I’ll eat anything in season. Since we don’t have any local apples as black as a solar eclipse, I’ll go with the darkest fruit that’s in season in the late summer: prune plums.
Prune plums. Credit: Specialty Produce.
More people are familiar with dried prunes than fresh ones, but this is what they look like fresh. In taste, they are similar to other European plums. In other words, they have sweet, dense flesh, with much less juice than the Asian plums that dominate the market in my area. Even while Asian plums and pluots (plum-apricot crosses) are more popular here, fresh prune plums make a great late summer treat.
There is plenty of symbolism in this choice of fruit. On the outside, prune plums are purple or deep blue, evoking the darkness of outer space. Their shape is oval, resembling the elliptical orbit of a planetary body around its larger host. When you cut them open, plums have a golden interior with a pit at the core. If you squint your eyes, you can imagine Saturn or perhaps a cross-section of the earth’s interior.
Sugar prunes. Credit: Dave Wilson Nurseries.
Prune plums put us in astronomical territory.
So what goes well with this fruit? Cheese, of course. But in keeping with the eclipse theme, it must be darkened or two-tone cheese. And I have the perfect choice: Humboldt Fog Cheese. While any self-respecting French person will tell you the best cheeses come from France, that statement was once true of wines as well. With wine, the French simply had a 500-year head start on some other parts of the world when it came to quality, but others began to catch up as they learned which grapes grew best in their microclimates. In 1973, French wine judges in Paris conducted a blind taste test in the so-called Judgment of Paris, famously selecting Napa Valley wines from the United States over their French counterparts as the winners in both categories.
Humboldt Fog Cheese. Credit: CC via Flickr by Arndog.
Humboldt Fog Cheese. Credit: CC via Flickr by Allaboutgeorge.
If you asked me several years ago, I would have said that there is no cheese in the U.S. that is equal to what you can taste in France. French cheeses are simply better. But the craft food movement in the U.S. has introduced better quality in so many fields, from cheese to chocolate. And while much has been written about the cheese I am about to describe (which has won multiple awards), it has taken me several years of tasting this cheese to fully grasp its complexity and make a definitive statement on the matter:
“Humboldt Fog Cheese is the most important cheese ever made in America. It is equal to anything I have tasted in France.” ---@donkeypong
BOOM. The silence is so, so, so…silent that you can hear a pin drop just at that moment the moon blocks out the sun. Since donkeys know their cheeses, and this one is not paid by the cheese maker for recommending its product, you’ll have to trust me on this until you can find somewhere that sells this stuff. It’s multi-layered, light and yet heavy, it’s almost two cheeses in one, and the only real parallel I can give you is Teahupoo.
Tea-hoo-what? Teahupoo; it’s a surf spot in Tahiti.
Hamilton's wave in Teahupoo. Photo: Tim McKenna, Surfer Magazine.
It’s been called the thickest wave and the heaviest wave. Seventeen years ago this month, surf legend Laird Hamilton dropped into a wave at the surf break in Tahiti known as Teahupoo. The full force of the South Pacific broke over this line of reef that’s so shallow it almost touches the surface. While others had surfed at Teahupoo, no one had ever seen someone ride a wave like this. Hamilton didn’t have to ride that wave to prove he was a bad-ass surfer, but the fact that he did ride it encouraged surfers and other extreme sports enthusiasts around the world to test new limits.
They called it the most important wave ever surfed because it showed human beings can reach new heights of extremity. Just like Humboldt Fog Cheese could be the most important cheese in America: it shows that more is possible outside of France. Like the Teahupoo wave, Humboldt fog cheese is a double-layer of complexity, almost two cheeses in one.
Humboldt Fog Cheese, first overlayed on the wave image credited above. On this wedge of cheese, you can see the different layers and the ripening process that begins on the outside. Credit: CC by mindonfire.
The first thing you notice is the vein of ash that runs through this cheese, made from edible vegetable ash. In keeping with our eclipse theme, this darkness runs around the outside as well, where the ash layer actually is buried in the edible mold rind.
Humboldt Fog is a goat’s milk cheese and at its core, when fresh, it tastes like a smooth chevre. Yet it is made as a soft-ripened cheese with a process much like that used for Brie or Camembert, which ripen from the outside in. When fresh, the cheese’s complex character only becomes fully evident when you reach the outer portion near the rind. There, all bets are off, because you’re in French cheese territory. To taste an American cheese with that kind of live, nutty, tangy, and salty complexity is to appreciate that this is a special confection.
And it only gets better as this wedge of goodness ages, since more and more of the cheese ripens toward the core. Imagine rolling together and layering the flavors of chevre, brie, and blue cheese, maintaining one of the smoothest consistencies you can imagine, adding in the earthy nuttiness of the ash layer, and throwing in the dynamic unpredictability of a live cheese where every wedge is a unique creation of nature.
Fresh prune plums with Humboldt Fog cheese. What beverage matches with these delicacies while keeping us in the pitch blackness of an eclipse? With fruit and cheese, the first thought would be wine, but I’ve pretended once already that purple was the new noir. At this juncture, ‘tis a better job for a stout, such as the pride of St. James Gate. And I cannot justify drinking a pint of Guinness at 9:30 in the morning, so I’ve found something more appropriate for an eclipse party.
Yes, I know, but...
Blackness in a bottle. Sources. Guinness, Luli, Prevention Magazine.
Liquid charcoal lemonade. Drinks don’t get any blacker than this. And unlike a dark beer, a shot of charcoal helps eliminate any junk in your body's digestive system. I had never tried this stuff before, but I sampled a bottle of it to rehearse for eclipse day. It tastes like a sour lemonade that’s blended with activated coconut charcoal. Just the stuff to clean you out inside. Warning: check with your doctor before consuming such a beverage.
And never drink Drano unless you want to be eclipsed from the inside out. Source: The Naked Gun, Paramount Pictures.
But I'll be watching it on TV. Can someone please pass the Oreos?
Top photo credit: NASA
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