The town of Providence, Ohio, is ready to host its annual Cheese Festival, and cheese shop owner Charlotte Bessette is excited—not only for the increased revenue brought by tourist traffic (though that is certainly a plus!), but also at the prospect of a weekend getaway to Emerald Pastures, a nearby dairy farm and inn. Run by Charlotte’s best friend, Erin, the small creamery will be hosting a “brain trust” where experts will discuss the latest in all things cheese. Charlotte and her one-time-dairy-farmer husband, Jordan, are looking forward to a physically relaxing and mentally stimulating few days, especially with the last-minute announcement of surprise guest Lara Berry.
Lara is a star in the cheese world, having worked her way up from humble cheese monger to renowned consultant and critic. Her interviews and reviews can make or break a cheese producer—and frequently have. Charlotte is expecting to spend time with a woman who is as open and humorous as in her TV interviews. It comes as quite a surprise, however, when Lara turns out to be a colossal diva with a short temper and sharp tongue who quickly riles up her fellow guests.
Even so, when a premonition leads Charlotte to persuade Jordan to break down Lara’s bedroom door on the second day of their brain-trust retreat, she is shocked to discover Lara’s corpse inside. The woman might have been prickly, but that certainly wasn’t a reason to kill her … was it?
Of course, all the guests come under suspicion for the puzzling murder, which has all the qualities of a locked-room mystery. But when Erin herself becomes prime suspect, Charlotte is determined to clear her friend’s name. Her investigation uncovers unsettling secrets about her fellow guests, as she discovers that Lara was a far more complex person, for better and worse, than she seemed.
Avery Aames leads the reader through a thorough investigation of each of the suspects’ relationship with the victim, which is a style of mystery writing I very much enjoy. I also adored her descriptions of cheese—you can tell she really knows her stuff!
Of the twelve tantalizing recipes included, I was determined to try one of the three quiches, eventually deciding on this intriguing dish:
Peanut Butter Quiche
4-6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 cup milk
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup peanut butter
1 (9-inch) pie shell, baked and cooled
2 green apples, peeled and sliced thin
1 cup shredded Havarti cheese
Pre-cook bacon. I like to microwave for no mess. To do so, on a plate, set a large piece of paper towel. Place 4-6 strips of bacon on top. Cover with another paper towel. Microwave on high for 3-4 minutes until very crisp. Let cool, then crumble into small bits. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Combine eggs, milk, and nutmeg in a mixer bowl. Turn up speed to medium-high and whip 30 seconds more.
Add peanut butter. Mix on medium-high until well combined, about 1 minute.
Sprinkle bacon evenly in the bottom of a pie shell. Layer the sliced apples on top of the bacon. Pour egg-peanut butter mixture over both, and sprinkle with Havarti cheese.
Bake at 350°F for 25-35 minutes, or until knife inserted comes out clean.
Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
I love this method of cooking bacon, and I was really looking forward to the combination of bacon, apple, and peanut butter. The bacon was absolutely delightful in this quiche, but I’m not sure how successful the rest of it was. This was in large part due to the filling being disappointingly bland. I believe that adding sugar to the filling would make this a standout dish, as it would amp up the contrast between the sweet filling, tart apples, and salty bacon and cheese.
That said, I’m grateful to Ms. Aames for recommending store-bought pastry for the crust, while also providing a recipe for those who’d rather make theirs from scratch. Options are always nice to have.
Another thing I liked was the chatty, in-character tone in which the recipes were written. Alas, the book ends with an author’s note stating that this will be the last in the series, which is a shame. I’ve never read such mouth-watering descriptions of cheese anywhere else.
Next week, we travel back to Maine, but no lobsters for us this time! Instead, we’ll be checking out some sweet treats: do join me!
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.