A Horizontal Culture

September 24, 2015

Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire.
~George Bernard Shaw

Since Pope Francis addressed and postured (rightly so) before the chambers of discontent, the 114th U.S. Congress, please allow me to again pontificate about cheese.

Ricardo C. Rodríguez de la Vega, PhD. is a bespeckled, seemingly unassuming professor and evolutionary biologist at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and University of Paris-Sud, who enjoys savoring the wares at local fromageries (cheese shops) along with his colleagues. Been there, done that, but not in such a scientific manner. There are sound reasons for this repetitive behavior…well, besides the sublime aromas and delectable pungencies. These scientists are attempting to reconstruct the genetic natures of molds used to make cheeses.

So, to craft Roquefort, cheese makers use Penicillin roqueforti and mix them into the fermenting curds and then drop the loaves into limestone caves. The resultant mold spreads throughout and not only gives the cheese its characteristic blue stripes but also the singular saltiness. On another note, cow’s milk, soft brie is inundated with Penicillin camemberti or candidum which diffuses over the outside of the cheese and thus becomes the bloomy rind — which I flat adore.

But, turns out that it is more just than the human induced mold. These same live molds drew, unknown to their captors, from new varieties of dioxyribonucleic acid (DNA) from even distantly related species, also known as horizontal gene transfers. So, a cheese organism will grab some DNA from foreign species and absorb it into its own genome. A heavenly exercise in evolution.


2 plump, fresh garlic cloves + 1 stick of unsalted butter

1 lb parsnips, peeled and sliced
1-1 1/2 lb turnips, peeled and sliced
1-1 1/2 C Gruyère, grated

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1+ C cream

Heat oven to 375 F

Thoroughly rub a shallow gratin dish with a crushed garlic clove and then butter the dish well with the end of a stick of butter.

Layer the parsnips, turnips and cheese in a gratin dish, sprinkling every other layer with salt, pepper and thyme.

Carefully and slowly pour in cream.

Roast in the oven until the root vegetables are tender and easily pierced with a fork, some 45-50 minutes.

Pourboire: speaking of, why do Americans persist in wrapping soft cheese beforehand in cling wrap when waste is notably prevalent, and other cultures gently place cheese, just after slicing, in waxed or parchment paper? Oh, and serve at room temperature, especially with soft cheeses.

…try the mustard — a man can’t know what turnips are in perfection without mustard.
~Mark Twain

An aside too often neglected.

True to form, the turnip (Brassica rapa) is a root vegetable of unknown origin. While it was firmly established as a domestic crop in Hellenistic and Roman times, evidence of earlier ancestry is rife with speculation. A root without established roots. Neither baby momma nor baby daddy have been firmly ID’ed.

Turnips display in a wide array of colors: red, purple-tipped, pearl, golden. Despite the rumors, they are far from plebian. For too long, turnips were treated with culinary disdain…shunned like an unwelcome relative at the table. They are earthy delights which surely deserve higher status in that sometimes damnable gastronomic caste system.

Turnips were originally called “neeps,” from the Latin word for turnip, napus, which also gave rise to the French word navet. (For reasons that seem incongruous, navet is also a pejorative French term for a bad film.)

Roasting roots makes them much more intensely flavored than boiling, frying or even steaming. The natural sugars begin to caramelize and yield sapid results. However, because of my inbred kinship with cream and cheese, my money is on au gratin.


8 turnips, washed, peeled with roots and tops trimmed

4 T unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 T Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 T fresh tarragon leaves finely chopped
2 T Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Fresh tarragon leaves, roughly chopped (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 400 F

In a bowl, mix the softened butter, mustard, garlic, tarragon, parsley, salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large, heavy pot, blanch the turnips for about 2-3 minutes in boiling water then transfer into an ice bath. Drain thoroughly and pat dry.

With a pairing knife, deeply score incisions on the turnip tops. Work the butter mix into the incisions and all over the outside of the turnips as well.

Arrange the turnips on an oiled sheet pan without crowding them. Roast the turnips until slightly browned and softened, about 25-30 minutes. Pierce with a fork to check doneness. Season again to taste with salt and pepper necessary. Garnish with chopped tarragon.


2 C heavy cream
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, smashed
3 thyme sprigs
Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 fresh, plump garlic clove, peeled
4 T unsalted butter, cut into small bits
2 lbs turnips, washed, peeled and thinly sliced
2 C gruyère cheese, grated
Sea salt and freshly grounded black or white pepper
Nutmeg, freshly grated

Preheat oven to 375 F

In a heavy sauce pan, combine the cream, garlic, thyme, and cayenne. Bring the cream to a gentle boil and then remove from heat. Allow to rest for 20 minutes. Then, remove and discard the thyme and garlic.

Thoroughly rub a shallow gratin or baking dish with a crushed garlic clove, and then lightly butter the dish with the end of a stick of butter. Arrange one half of the turnips slightly overlapped in a single layer. Dot with butter and sprinkle with half of the cheese and then half of the cream. Season with salt and pepper. Add a second layer of turnips in the similar manner with cheese, cream and season with salt and pepper. Top with a slight grate of nutmeg.

Bake until golden, about for 35-40 minutes. Should the gratin begin to turn overly brown, cover with aluminum foil.

Allow the dish to rest at least 15 minutes before serving.