Cheese 136 Blue Mountain Blue

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It’s rare that a cheese is also a palindrome: Blue Mountain Blue. OK, I guess it’s not technically a palindrome, but it practically is, and that is a very special thing in a cheese.

Another really special thing in a cheese, is when a cheese monger personally recommends it. I recently made a road trip to Seattle, Washington and visited the charming Calf and Kid cheese shop. It’s always such a thrill for me to find a brand new cheese shop, and I was lucky enough to bring home three local Washington cheeses all recommended by the staff there.

The first of these is the new hot cheese in the shop this month, Blue Mountain Blue. The cheese monger told me it’s fantastic and has been selling like crazy. Honestly, she had me at “Blue.”  Blue Mountain Blue is a new blue-veined cave matured cheese from the eponymous Blue Mountain Blue Cheese company from Walla Walla (another almost Palindrome!) in Washington State.

According to their website,  (which you must go and see, it’s beautifully done) Blue Mountain Blue debuted on 4 July 2013, so it’s practically a cheese newborn. It’s made from the raw milk of a small herd of Irish Shorthorn-Holstein cross dairy cows. The herd is lead by a cow named  Old Blue. Old Blue and her sisters cows graze on natural  stands of lush grasses, and are solely pasture-fed, establishing the terroir of the cheese. I do love it when a cheese is named after a cow, Blossom’s Blue from Saltstpring Island is also named after a cow, and there’s something lovely about that. In fact, I recommend more cheeses be named after cows.

Blue Mountain Blue is a raw milk cheese made with natural rennet. After being formed, the cheese curd is sliced with a special multiple-blade knife.  Sea salt is sprinkled into the cubed curds which are stirred to break down their size further. A “proprietary complex of several strains of Penicillium roqueforti”  is introduced into the curd with stainless-steel needles, creating pathways which permit air (and mould spore) to get into the interior of the cheese. The cheese develops its veining for 120 days, then the rounds are transported to a solid-basalt cave in the Blue Mountain range above the Walla Walla Valley to continue their affinage over 12 months. Wow, a solid basalt cave. I would like to see that with my own eyes.
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This all sounds fantastic to me: 12 month affinage, raw milk, great terroir, happy cows, solid basalt caves, a cheese named after cows, a swanky website, and a proprietary mould….

But what about the cheese?

Well, this cheese is an attractive  blue cheese. It has a nice creamy yellow looking paste shot through with light blue and green mould, but there’s still a lot of creamy looking paste there. You can clearly see where the stainless needles pierced the cheese as the veining develops along those lines. There’s no discernable rind. The smell is gentle, yet absolutely divine. I’m drooling a little as I type, you can smell that cheesy blue aroma with just a hint of alcohol.

Here goes…

Mmmmmm. smooth, creamy, salty, round and spicy. It’s very much like a Stilton, but a little more salty. Actually there are chunks of sea salt in it that are just sumptuous and kind of crunchy. But it’s got a sweetness from that raw cow milk that helps keep the spice of the blue in balance. Really, it’s fabulous, very nice and very approachable for a blue. It’s so well-balanced and not overly aggressive that it should be welcome on any cheese plate.
Great job, Blue Mountain Blue, I can’t wait to see what you are up to next!
Yummy, it’s Yummy.
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Cheese 135 The Farm House Natural Cheeses-Brie


Sometimes, when something is so good, it’s hard to find the right time to share it. I have been aware of today’s cheese and cheese-maker for over a year now, but it’s just never seemed like the right time to let this little secret out. But enough is enough, welcome-cheese friends, to The Farm House Natural Cheeses.

About an hour and a half outside of Vancouver, lies the sleepy town of Agassiz, in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. Last year I was lucky enough to go and visit The Farm House Natural Cheeses to interview their cheese maker and have a tour of their premises. Yes, thanks for asking, it was awesome. At the risk of sounding like an overly star-struck cheese lover, let me just say, that this was potentially the best cheese experience I have had to date.

Everything there was just as you would want it to be. Cows and goats produce the milk on site, and the cheese is made a few steps away: true terroir. The beautiful mountains of the Fraser Valley loom overhead, and the fields of hay shimmer below. Besides that, the whole family is involved too,  from daily milking and barn chores, hay-making and field work, to cheese making. It’s a real family affair.

The co-owner and head cheese-maker, Debra Amrein-Boyes, is one of only twelve people in western Canada and US to be inducted into the prestigious French Cheese Guild, the “Guilde des Fromagers Confrerie de Saint-Uguzon.” This guild  recognizes those who protect and continue the tradition of cheesemaking around the world. And because of this honour, Debra actually has her own patron saint of cheese, and what’s not to love about that? Yes, you did just read that, a patron saint of cheese. Besides that, she’s a lovely lady with a true passion for cheese, who showed me around her fastidiously clean facility and her sumptuous affinage caves. I was loath to leave.

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So how does a cheese maker in a little sleepy valley in BC get such an honour, you might wonder? It’s likely partially because Debra authored her book, “200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes-From Cheddar and Brie to Butter and Yogurt” which was nominated in 2009 for a World Gourmand Cookbook Award and is available for purchase in many book stores, or online. If you have ever wished to try your hand at home cheesemaking, this is the book for you. No, I don’t own it yet, and yes, it’s on my Christmas wish list.

Right, I have gushed enough. Can you tell I’m a fan?

The Farmhouse Natural Cheeses makes a number of cheese products, most of which I have sampled (lucky me) but when I saw today’s Brie for sale, so deliciously close to the “best before” date (remember, this means “best on” date,) I knew that today was the day, and this was the cheese.

This round of Brie is rather diminutive, it’s about 2 inches in diameter. It’s made from pasteurized cow’s milk, sourced on site. It’s an authentic, naturally ripened Brie, hand-ladled, with a lovely, fully developed white mushroomy rind.The smell is inviting, a warm combination of mushroom and straw. When I cut into it, the paste is astonishingly yellow, the milk from the cows must have been very rich, it makes a handsome contrast to the white rind (which I shall eat, aways eat the rind on a brie!)
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Here goes…

Mmmm, it’s salty and smooth and creamy and fantastic. It’s a delicious balance of fat, salt and mushroom. The rind is fabulous, with a real texture to it, and when you mix it in with the paste it makes for an amazing experience. It’s Fraser Valley terroir at its best. It’s perhaps not as gooey as I hoped for,  but it’s only been out of the fridge for 15 minutes, so I’m leaving it out the rest of the morning, and hope to see this little cheese run. It’s a mild and inviting locally sourced Brie, made by a local cheese master (with her own patron saint of cheese.)  What’s not to like about that? Go out and buy some, and thank me later.

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Cheese 133 Blarney Castle Cheese

Sometimes I just don’t have the energy to look for a really sexy cheese. I start to worry about what the people at the cheese shop think of me if I’m there too much (and I am.) Do they think I’m sort of cheese junky?  Do they think I’m obsessed?  It worries me.  That’s why, from time to time, I like to buy my cheese at the supermarket. It’s just so delightfully anonymous. No one is monitoring my shopping, no one judges my cheese choices. And sometimes, you can find interesting cheese at the market.

I stumbled across todays’ cheese on such a cheese shopping trip. It’s Blarney Castle by Kerrygold-the ubiquitous Irish cheese maker. I thought it charming, with its old-timey wrapper (I’m such a sucker for an old-timey wrapper) and it’s adorable name. I reviewed Kerrygold Dubliner cheese a while back, and you can read my review here. It was a sweet, slightly odd cheese-also in an old-timey wrapper (nice consistent branding. ) Kerrygold uses all “natural” and grass fed milk for its cheeses.  Although it’s a big company, they do try to source locally, and what’s not to like about that?

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But back to Blarney. The real Blarney Castle or Caisleán na Blarnan is a partially ruined medieval  stronghold in Blarney near Cork Ireland. My Irish Nash relatives are also from Cork Ireland, so I truly do feel a connection to this cheese. This castle  dates from before 1200 in some form or another. The famous Blarney Stone is found in this castle, also known as  “the Stone of Eloquence.”  It’s a magical stone! People  hang upside-down over a sheer drop to kiss the stone, which gives the gift of bullshit. As I mentioned, my people come from this area, and I suspect this gift has also been passed down generation to generation. Perhaps even finding its way into this very blog! Full circle.

What does this all of this have to do with cheese? Probably very little. It’s a catchy name and an Irish cheese, and you have to call it something, right? The cheese is made from pasteurized cow’s milk from Irish cows who hypothetically graze in the area, but really, who knows, it’s a bit of a mystery. The wrapper with a charming picture of a milk bucket (old-timey!) claims that it is a “smooth and mild gouda cheese”, which is-of course, a Dutch cheese (not Irish) -so again, mysterious.

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My little block of Blarney Castle is a calm, unassuming cheese. It’s soft and a nice golden yellow colour. There are tiny eyes in the paste. The smell is sweet and mild. There’s nothing to see here folks!  Actually, this is a pretty little cheese, it wouldn’t scare anyone, and that’s important to me. So many of the cheeses I sample are frightening to behold. It looks like cheddar, not real cheddar, but supermarket cheddar, uniform and without blemish.

Here goes:

Sweet, benign, toothsome, yummy. It tastes just like it looks, it’s a simple and unthreatening cheese. I could give this to anyone and they would like it, it’s a perfect starter cheese. It’s actually really yummy, it has a great balance of sweet and salt and the texture is very springy and milky. I don’t know where the “young gouda” thing comes in, it’s not like any gouda I know, it reminds me more of a German farmer’s cheese (which reminds me, I need to review German Farmer’s cheese.) I have just snarfed down my wedge and I’m heading back for more. Who knows the real story here, not me, but if you are looking for a grass fed cow’s cheese at the market and you want to stray from the usual without getting too freaky, give this one a try, and that’s no Blarney!

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Cheese 131 14 Arpents-Fromagerie Medard

 

 

You know how some people like to shop for cars, or jewellery, or clothes?  I like to shop for cheese.

Every time I’m in a new store, I’m drawn to the cheese section, and my children mock me for this. Last week they accused me of being “addicted to cheese.” And that’s just unfair. I mean, addicted? Addicted means that I think about it all the time, I obsess about it, I can’t live without it. Shit. Maybe I AM addicted.

Last week when the whole “mom’s addicted” issue came up, I was elbow deep in our local Whole Foods cheese section. I do like to look for cheese here as they tend to have a decent selection, and they also have a basket of smaller “amuse bouche” tastes of cheese, which is a great way to get into cheese without making a huge commitment.

It was here that I noticed today’s cheese for the first time, a Canadian cheese, from Quebec and as it is Canada Day (Happy Canada D’eh!) I thought it an excellent choice. It’s an interesting looking square cheese from the Quebec Fromagerie Medard called 14 Arpents (FYI, that link is in French, so best of luck to you.)


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If my high school French serves me correctly, 14 arpents means 14 acres, as in “14 acres of land” and the lady at the cheese counter told me it refers to the road bordering the fromagerie, called Le Chemin 14 Arpents. It’s a whole milk, washed rind  cheese made from the milk of the farm’s own brown Swiss cattle-and this one’s pasteurized (alas.) This is a true farmstead cheese as it is made from the cattle that live on the farm.

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The milk for this cheese is sourced from the attached  Ferme Domaine De La Rivière,  established in  1881 when the Quebec government gave  families with at least 12  children (yikes) extra funds to settle and develop the area. The eponymous Médard (of Fromagerie Medard) was the son of one of these establishing families. The  Fromagerie Medard,  opened in 2006 took his name, so there’s a true thread of farming, history of the land in the cheese and in the cheese name, and I like that.

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This is a handsome cheese, it has a lovely orange washed rind and a creamy yellow interior, spotted with eyes. It seems rather alive- it oozed slightly when I cut it, and as it warms up, it really does reek quite pleasantly. There’s that delightfully foul odour of unwashed feet that captivates me. Alas, so many are scared off by that initial “hello” from a washed rind, that’s just the bark! Don’t be afraid of the bite!  Move in, I implore thee.
Mmmmmm. This is the love child of Taleggio and Oka! It’s a round tasty flavoured cheese, with just a hint of bitter from that salty washed rind. It’s toothsome and chewy, it sticks to my teeth, it plays with my tongue. Although the smell is a little fierce, the taste is mellow, yet complex. I think this one would work on just about any cheese board. It’s salty and creamy and nutty and pleasurable in the mouth. It’s just slightly “gym-socky” but in an ever so friendly way. My only regret? I only bought a small chunk.
Go out and grab some, and Happy Canada Day

Cheese 130 Valdeon (Queso de Valdeon) DOP

 

I recognize that blue cheese isn’t for everyone. First, it looks kind of vile: it’s mouldy and blue and we humans generally don’t eat blue things because blue things are usually moldy, and moldy things usually make us sick. We are actually hard-wired to avoid blue foods (I’m sure I read that in a magazine somewhere.) Also, blue cheese kind of tastes like vomit, and I mean this in the very best way. As mentioned previously, the enzymes found in some blue cheeses are actually identical to those found in vomit, so it’s not JUST a coincidence! However, if one can get beyond these simple facts, there is a sumptuous world of blue cheese out there. Alas, my own immediate family cannot seem to move beyond the facts of blue mould and vomit, so I often eat blue cheeses all on my own. Don’t feel sorry for me though, I don’t want to share my blue cheese. After I review it, it spends the rest of the week crumbled in the daily salad, if you must know, and that blue and I really do enjoy the week together.

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I’ve been looking for a good Spanish blue to review for a while, Spain being renowned for their Blues.  I happily stumbled across today’s cheese, Valdeon at a local cheese shop-at long last.Valdeon is a traditional Spanish blue cheese produced in the valley of Valdeon in the province of Leon, Spain. The climate is less humid here than other regions of Spain and this results in (according to web sources)  a “less virulent mold” and hence a less intense tasting blue than some other Spanish blues, specifically the infamously raunchy tasting close cousin of Valdeon, Cabrales. Can we just perseverate for a moment on the phrase “less virulent mold?” That’s the kind of thing that makes cheese newbies run for the hills, so perhaps you might want to keep that little morsel of information to yourself when presenting a Spanish blue on your cheese board.

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The rind of a Valdeon is wrapped in the leaves of the sycamore tree, which allows certain bacteria to penetrate the cheese adding a unique and complex taste profile. If there are no leaves, it’s not a Valdeon.  Valdeon has DOP (PGI) or Protected Geographical Status. That means that all Valdeon is really Valdeon or someone’s in trouble. Valdeon can be made seasonally from cow’s milk, goat’s milk, or a mixture, so it’s hard to tell what kind of Valdeon I have, as I ‘m not about to run a DNA test on it. The mold used in this cheese is our old friend, penicillium roqueforti, and the milk used may be raw or pasteurized. Maturation takes place in real mountain caves for 2-4 months. And who doesn’t love a cheese matured in a real bona fide mountain cave, I certainly do. Usually.

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My little sticky wedge of Valdeon DOP is quite fascinating to behold. It looks a little like a Stilton, the creamy grey paste is shot through with a healthy (might one almost say virulent) looking blue mold. There is black leaf wrapping around the cheese. As I peel back this sycamore wrapping it’s kind of sticky and mouldy and somewhat grim, honestly, it feels like an autopsy. The wrapping does not wish to be separate from the cheese, but off it goes. Once it’s removed, the cheese awaits me. It smells divine, kind of like a mushroomy, reek, sordid, naughty, dark. It almost seems wrong to eat it in the morning, this is a mysterious nighttime cheese.

Here goes…Raunchy! Salty! Spicey! Mouldy! Holy hannah, if this is the milder version Cabrales how do people eat that cheese? Wow, Valdeon is kicking ass and taking numbers. Definitely NOT a starter blue. It’s burning my throat, and making my tongue go numb-incidentally this throat and tongue numbing is caused by  mycotoxins (fungal toxins) in the decomposing penicillium roqueforti, don’t worry, it’s not an allergy!  (I hope). OK, honestly, I admire this Valdeon, but it scares me. I want to drizzle it with honey and eat it with a pear or a chocolate bar, or something, but just off the plate it’s even a little virulent for my palate.

Wow. I’ve met my match.

Cheese 129 Roaring Forties-King Island Dairy

Last year I attempted to visit Keso Cheese Shop in Whiterock, BC (a city outside of Vancouver.) I was stopped at the door by the police! Alas, the store had just been robbed a minute earlier. As I stood outside, peering at the cheese between the boys (and girls) in blue, I promised Keso I would be back. Yesterday, was that day, and what a great road trip. Proprietor and fellow turophile Mauricio Kremer was happy to chat cheese with me, extolling the virtues of cheeses he and I have loved, and imploring me to give my cheese nemeses, Tete du Moine and Stinking Bishop another go. Nice try, Mauricio.

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I was only in the shop for a minute when this little beauty caught my eye.  Roaring 40′s has actually been on my “must try” list for over a year, but this is the first time I have seen the real thing. Did you think I made a mistake and meant “Roaring 20’s?” OK, I actually thought that was an error too, but no,  Roaring 40’s refers to the strong westerly winds that hit the fromagerie on King Island, found in the Bass Straight south of Melbourne, Australia on the 40 degrees latitude. This wicked wind, called the “Roaring 40’s”  is responsible for many shipwrecks, but also for the terroir that eventually makes its way into the cheese. According to cheese legend, (I love me a cheese legend) the King Island grasses were actually seeded from straw mattresses washed up from these same shipwrecks. So truly, this cheese does belong to the Roaring 40’s! The cattle of King Island nibble shipwrecked straw and kelp all day, but that’s about it, truly shipwrecked terroir!
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Roaring forties is made by the eponymous  King Island Dairy  from cow’s milk. It’s aged 10-12 weeks and is inoculated with blue pencillium roqueforti. Basically it’s a Roquefort, but made with cow’s milk instead of sheep’s milk, and with an Australian shipwrecked mattress twist. A thick coating of blue-black wax covers the cheese, and this acts to limit which bacteria can enter the cheese and also keeps the cheese sweet and fruity. It also keeps it quite moist and protected inside, which is a good thing as Australia is a long, long way from Vancouver. Despite the challenges I have had tracking it down,Roaring 40’s is pretty well-known in the world of cheese, it’s won a ton of awards, but most recently  the 2012 Champion Trophy in the Australian Grand Dairy Awards

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Roaring 40’s is an extremely sexy looking cheese. Blue/black thick wax covers the exterior with a creamy paste shot through with mould, what’s not to like? As I peel back that thick wax (don’t eat it , silly, it’s not a rind) I’m kind of drooling. It’s a handsome cheese, it looks like Stilton to me with that lovely creamy cow’s milk yellow. It really is moist for a blue, that wax did a good job. This cheese smells fabulous, pungent and cheesy, it’s a little sticky to the touch. Enough, I must taste.

Mmmmmm. Wow. Oh yah! It’s really smooth and unctuous, yet slightly crumbly in the mouth. There’s a tiny little crunch in the paste, is it salt? Is it calcium? Who cares, it’s great. It’s salty and fruity, almost caramel sweet but with that unmistakable spicy blue mould hit. It’s really a terrific blue, and not overly terrifying. It’s actually pretty mellow for a blue, I MIGHT be able to talk to blue-phobic husband into this one…nah, I’m keeping it for myself.

Cheese 128 Isle of Mull Cheddar

I recently asked one of my favourite cheese sellers to name his favourite cheese. I realize that this is a cruel question. People ask me this cruel question all the time, and you might as well ask me who my favourite child is, it’s just wrong. Instead, ask me what my favourite washed rind cheese is, or my favourite mountain cheese, or perhaps, my most beloved cheddar.Still challenging, but much more realistic.

However, my cheese seller, when pressed (that’s a cheese pun) admitted to one favourite and that favourite is today’s cheese, “Isle of Mull Cheddar.” It’s taken me quite a while to track some down, as this is a very rare and precious cheese, but for you, readers, and for cheese, I will do just about anything.

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Isle of Mull cheddar is made by one family only, the Reades. They are the only family with a dairy herd on the Scottish Isle of Mull, which lies along the coastline of west Scotland. The island is quite “wee” with a population of no more than 3000. Proprietors Jeff and Chris Reade have been making cheese here since 1979. Their cheese is made from the milk of their own herd of cows, and due to the small area of the island, this milk is very affected by terroir-limited grain, and limited grass. To supplement the available food, these cows are fed the “spent grain husks” from the nearby whisky distillery, which is added to their feed (lucky cows). Apparently, this adds a slightly yeasty and perhaps alcoholic tang to this cheese. Wow! I mean, most of us have heard of wine and cheese, but this is the first whiskey IN cheese I have run across.

This is a relatively young cheddar, aged about 18 months, and it’s wrapped in cloth. Can I just say here  how mad I am for a cloth-wrapped cheese? I believe this is only my third cloth-wrapped cheese in the over 130 I have reviewed. Maybe I’m sentimental for the days of yore when more cheeses were wrapped, or maybe it’s that  funky smell the cloth gets when the bacteria move in, but I really give extra bonus points for this. More cloth please, cheese-makers of the world!

OK enough waxing on, now a word of warning. This is not a cheap cheese. Do you see this slice? Yes, it’s a tall slice, but it cost $8.00 here in Canada. That’s kind of crazy. It is a raw milk cheese (I’m not sure if it’s organic, it doesn’t say) and yes, it comes all the way from a wee Scottish Island where the cows drank spent grain husks all day, but this is one of the priciest cheeses I have sampled to date. Don’t grate this cheddar into your mac and cheese!  SAVE  IT FOR A RAINY DAY AND A GOOD FRIEND.

 

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First, this is a handsome cheese, that’s the best way to describe it. It’s an old-fashioned cheddar, with a creamy coloured paste but it’s very pale-much more pale than most other cheddars, and darker as it approaches the rind which I am thrilled to say is wrapped in cloth (don’t eat that part, for heaven’s sake.) You can see the texture of the cheddaring in the paste, a little pattern of pressed curds with tiny cracks. It’s a firm cheese, but a little moist, it’s not crumbling like some cheddars. The smell is crazy! I can actually smell whiskey in this cheese, I kid you not, these cows must have been truly “lit” as we say here in Canada. I know human moms who are breast-feeding aren’t supposed to drink as the alcohol passes on through the milk…that’s what has happened here folks. I can absolutely smell booze in this cheese, it’s so interesting!  Talk about terroir.

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Now the tasting-it’s so complex! It’s actually really hard to explain. The texture is a nice cheddary chew, yes, no crunch, but the taste. It’s meaty, salty, boozy. There’s no tang that I sometimes taste in cheddar, that tang is replaced by an alcohol note. It’s not sweet either, despite it being a raw cheddar. It’s fruity, but without any sweet, like a savoury fruit. It’s completely unlike any cheddar I have ever tasted.It’s funky and yeasty and aggressive. It’s boozy and sexy and weird. I don’t even know that this is cheddar, I don’t even know what it is, it’s kind of out of this world.

Wow, Isle of Mull Cheddar, I think, for once, I’m kind of speechless, or maybe I’m just drunk from eating you. Crazy!