Eating Cheese With a Fork: Cheese plate at a French bistro without brie? Hey, it's still cheese

Amid the sound waves of Kelly Clarkson and Carly Rae Jepsen’s forgotten hits, a platter of elegantly scattered salty fats found its way to our table at Marie Louise Bistro (904 N. Charles St., [410] 385-9946, marielouisebistrocatering.com). The charcuterie and cheese plate ($16) featured two thick slices of paté, or spreadable leftover meat-ish things, under a stack of salami, prosciutto, and cured beef arranged like a teenager’s disheveling of his mother’s folded laundry, with several pieces of crunchy crostini, a dollop of delicious, spicy eggplant caponata, a couple of strawberries and cherry tomatoes, and three embarrassingly small pickles. The quantity and variety of samplings was impressive and certainly enough to satisfy several normal people, or two of us. And, praise Goddess, there was a cluster of fresh mozzarella balls and a generous heap of sliced aged cheese. Consider everything else garnish.

We were immediately disappointed by the apparent absence of French confections in the cheese selection, though. We never imagined or wished to leave a French bistro without a fragrant brie, roquefort, or camembert stuck to the roof of our mouth. But cheese is cheese, and the Italians and Spaniards know dairy as well as the French. We enjoyed the manchego, Spain’s cherished semi-hard sheep cheese with a gorgeous weave-pressed rind and nutty, velvet notes, and the sweet, baby-faced mozzarella balls were soaked with olive oil and herbs.

The mild pair made way for the third cheese, which our waiter was unable to identify. We took it home to conduct a series of experiments that mostly involved eating it in a manner that was too intense for a public place, especially because we were already getting side-eyed for eating paté and cheese with a fork. In the privacy of our kitchen, we found that the cheese’s grainy texture, brutal saltiness, and alluring suaveness reminded us of gravelly Italian beaches—maybe some kind of softened pecorino romano? We’re fairly sure this cheese has been bathed in the Mediterranean sun, judging by the unapologetic brine almost seeping from the meat. Despite our clearly legit expertise, we were ultimately unable to identify the specimen. A wild card can be a fun addition to a cheese plate, but we wish we could put a name to this mystery man.

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