I can’t help it. I see the word “brasserie” and I think “brassiere.” It may be Freudian, but a controversial dish at a New York City eatery has — just this once — justified the slip.
Diners at Klee Brasserie in Chelsea recently got a taste of Mommy’s Milk Cheese, a delicacy made from (gulp) human breast milk. Chef Daniel Angerer whipped up the fromage-de-la-femme after discovering that his home freezer could no longer hold all the milk that his wife was pumping for their 10-week-old daughter.
The couple hopes to donate the extra milk to families in need, but the approval process takes months. So rather than waste the current stock, Angerer, who once defeated Bobby Flay on Iron Chef, conducted a culinary experiment. He liked what he tasted, and he soon began offering the cheese at his bistro as a canapé in various incarnations: encrusted with caramelized pumpkin, coated in dried mushroom dust, accompanied by figs and Hungarian pepper.
Some customers ate it up; others found the idea appetite-curdling. Veteran restaurant critic Gael Greene said it wasn’t the mild taste but the “strangely soft, bouncy” texture that creeped her out.
Breast milk—technically—should be one of the healthiest things people can put in their bodies. But since the source (Angerer’s vegetarian spouse) is unregulated, the health department made him take it off the menu. Which is probably for the best. My problem with Mommy’s Milk Cheese isn’t gastronomical. It isn’t even Puritanical. It’s personal.
New mothers are told unequivocally that providing breast milk is the single best thing we can do for our babies, so we go to preposterous lengths to wring every precious drop of “liquid gold” from our poor, pawed-at bosoms.
We study the “football hold” and “cradle hold” like we’re cramming for a chemistry exam. We strap hideous flap-bras onto the food factories that used to be our man-bait. We avoid delicious colic-triggering treats like chocolate, and pop quizzically named herbs that make our sweat smell like maple syrup. And we pump. Oh, my gouda, do we pump.
Anyone who’s ever hooked her mammaries to a slurping suction machine can’t relish the idea of serving her hard-won créme de la créme with crackers, you know what I’m saying?
Pumping is work. I have friends who’ve pumped under ponchos at church, sitting on airport floors, and in Starbucks bathrooms with customers knocking to get in. One gal, a radio host, pumped while she was on the air, wired with a microphone and sitting in a bathroom down the hall from her male co-hosts’ sound booth. Corporate moms often pump in shabby storerooms and out in their cars, with beach towels covering the windows.
One friend, a magazine editor, knows too well the rigors of pumping. She left her baby at home to cover Couture Week in Paris (I know, I know, that’s not the hard part) and had to carry a hand pump to relieve her hyper-productive ducts between shows. “Imagine rushing in the bathroom at the Chanel showroom to express milk, skipping out of an Hermès luncheon to relieve my swollen breasts in the back stockroom, and dashing out of Dior because my shirt was soaking wet,” she says. “The saddest part was having to dump it into the sink every time.”
The stuff is invaluable. It’s mommy moonshine; every ounce counts, which is why it’s hard to watch it rolled into bite-size haute cuisine.
Angerer is reportedly developing a new recipe for his wife’s breast milk: gelato. And while I do consider frozen dessert to be a higher calling than overpriced appetizers, the dish still feels misguided. If the ice cream is chocolate, his nursing wife can’t eat it. And if it’s not … then really, what’s the point?