Best Picture Cheeses: 'American Hustle'

The beautiful mess that is Ameribella

First, an explanation. This is CineMunch, where the Cine veers decidedly toward the Oscars and the Munch nearly always involves cheese. So why wouldn't we choose a cheese for each of this year's Best Picture nominees? We wouldn't not. Here's installment #1.

Ameribella is stinky. It's what cheese people call a washed rind, the term for cheeses washed in a saltwater brine (or beer, or wine, or cider) as they age. Washing encourages the proliferation of Brevibacterium linens, the friendly neighborhood bacteria that imparts all manner of pungency to a cheese. Depending on the make process, the type and character of the milk, the conditions in the aging room, etc., B. linens will manifest as body odor, rotting fruit, or gym socks. Alternatively, you might detect sulfurous eggs, wet newspaper, or barnyard. If you're lucky, all of the above and more will come shining through, singing their ballad of stench through your nose and palate.

In short, washed rinds are the hot messes of the cheese world. They feel somehow wrong to love, yet they're impossible not to. And when you find one you like, you're proud of it, and unduly defensive around anyone who disagrees. Ameribella, from Jacobs & Brichford Farmstead Cheese in Indiana, is a rising star on the American cheese scene. Shaped like Taleggio and inspired by the cheeses of Northern Italy, this stinker's taut, creamy paste is barely contained by a dazzling orange-hued rind. Meaty and fruity with a silky texture, Ameribella's intense flavors and aromas keep singing long after you take your last bite. It's a challenging cheese that's worth the investment.

Enter American Hustle, the hot mess of the 2013 Best Picture lineup. There's certainly a parallel theme of precarious containment. Much like Ameribella's rind barely contains it, Christian Bale's toupee sits on his head like a feather on a mountaintop, Bradley Cooper's tight curls threaten to pop out with the slightest change in air pressure, and Amy Adams, well, her dazzling tops hold two of her most noticeable assets out of sight, just barely.

Then there's the barely coherent plot. Against a backdrop of 70s kitsch, the stylized screenplay meanders then jerks from scene to scene, relying on kooky characters and characterizations as the backbone of the work. It's not a terribly straightforward film, just as Ameribella isn't a terribly straightforward cheese, and maybe because of this its ardent fans are large in number. For me, American Hustle is simply too messy. Something smells amiss. (Matt, the Cine in CineMunch, was more entertained and stands behind the movie's merits. Reverse that scenario and we're talking about Ameribella.)

No doubt, in American Hustle writer/director David O. Russell has created an unapologetic shitshow. But even in this mess there is plenty to savor. Just take a closer whiff.