Oh cheese, how I adore thee, golden succulent wave of heaven.
Okay, enough of that; I am no poet.
But seriously, cheese is an addiction, I am convinced, at least for myself. It is absolutely, unequivocally, my vice.
My love affair with cheese is very complex. I happen to be a non meat-eater, but I do eat fish. I will cook and prepare meat dishes for my family and friends as long as they meet certain ethical standards, such as being humanely raised on organic ingredients, and if they’re from local sources, even better. I’m telling you all of this for a reason, so don’t think me now some hippie-fied holier-than-thou, plant-based, pretentious, cuckoo bird. I promise, I’m not. I don’t think I am, am I? No, no, I’m not.
In my late teens and early twenties as I was coming into the sphere of my own set of morals and ethics, I tried to go Vegan. In theory, it seemed so easy: eggs, yeah I can handle that. Milk, never liked it, no problem; I did soy at the time anyway. Hmm, bread, okay that’s a tough one. Pizza crust! Oh, crap. Ice cream, oh my. Cheese… Wait, cheese?! No cheese?! I couldn’t, I just couldn’t!
So my Vegan phase lasted about a month. And what did me in? What was the ultimate temptation? The damn cheese! I remember it like it was yesterday.
Picture this. I am at a friend’s house where everyone is eating pizza, and I am angrily enjoying my salad. Someone brings out the effin’ mozzarella sticks. Oh yeah, that’s right, some jerk had the nerve to order mozzarella sticks! And then some other jerk had the nerve to bite into the gooey, warm, awesome, stringy heaven like it was a flippin’ commercial for mozzarella cheese.
That was it! I just couldn’t take it anymore. I believe I enjoyed about 6 or 7 of that jerk’s mozzarella sticks. Showed them, right?
From them on, I decided that I would do my best when possible to just eat responsibly and try to be conscious of where my food came from.
Cheese – All
Sailor – 0
So began my ultimate love affair with cheese, and I gave in without guilt to this mistress.
I have a very open mind about cheese. I would try just about any, even the stinky stuff. What I couldn’t seem to appreciate was cheese that came from a jar, box, or can. I just couldn’t.
I stumbled into my first foray with this type of cheese at the home of my friend’s grandmother. She was without a doubt stuck in the decade of her young twenties. Imagine Peg Bundy, just a lot older and with enough money to “Peg Bundy” up the entire house, but in early 60’s decor.
She was having a cocktail and cards party that night for her and her new beau’s friends, which was to be a very swanky, stylish affair. We were tasked with removing the plastic from all of the furniture, dusting the jeweled fruit and everything in the “white room” (you know, that room in the house where no one is ever allowed to go in, with powder blue carpet, all white furniture, and gold and white floral wallpaper. Oh yeah, baby!), and helping with the hors-d’oeuvres.
She pulled out a ton of trays for us to layer with doilies and then the food came out. Every single food item came from a jar, a box, or a can, I kid you not.
And then she asked me to take over the cheese and crackers. She handed me a can… A CAN! What? What the hell was this? Cheese in a can? I had never seen or heard of such a thing. I wasn’t sure if I should be excited or terrified (I was a little of both).
So, there I was spraying this very orange cheese-like stuff onto an entire box of Ritz crackers. The entire time I was trying to decide if I should try one. The smell was very strange, but it was cheese, and I love cheese. It had to be good. It’s cheese, right?!
Nope, it wasn’t good. In fact, it was very, very bad. Very bad.
However, that did not end my cheese addiction. It just made me more careful, and spend more time smelling cheese before tasting it.
Many years later, I found myself in France. I was so excited to really “do” cheese. And I did, I really did. I don’t think I pooped for a month!
The best cheese experience I had was in the south of France. I was staying in a very tiny, remote village in the mountains. The villa we were in did not even have electricity or running water.
One afternoon, we were driving back from the little town and passed a very picturesque farm with a sign near the road that read “Cheese and Honey.” This was less than a year after the whole Foot and Mouth outbreak had ended, so many farms were devastated by the disease and worse, the media mania that had come with it. I was told that usually in these villages’ farms, no one really advertised like that, sticking mainly to the markets.
I begged my friend to drive up to the farmhouse and we did. A very elderly but robust Frenchman met us at the end of the drive with a huge, welcoming smile. My friend told him I was American and a huge cheese lover. The man’s smile really went from ear to ear. He was so excited to have us there.
I asked him everything I could think of with my friend as translator. Before we followed him to the barn, I asked him to tell us about the treatment of his animals. I was overjoyed when he explained how he felt about his livestock. He told us they were like his children, and the happier and more comfortable they were, the better the cheese was. He explained that his survival was based solely on them, and that in fact, they were the bosses; he worked for them.
I just loved his approach and view, and I found him to be very genuine.
He took us through his cheese barn and explained what was on all of the shelves. There was cow cheese, sheep’s milk, and goat cheeses. He prepared a selection for us to try and brought out a few bottles of wine (of course). And it was probably the best cheese I have ever tasted in my entire life. So fresh, like a fresh I had never experience before. Pure bliss.
We left with an entire box of cheese blocks, and there was another month I didn’t poop.
This experience really solidified my love for cheese and opened up a whole new appreciation for many different types.
It’s amazing when one thinks of cheese as an environment. Do you want to prepare a meal that is grassy with lots of sunshine, warm breezes, and earthiness? Okay, then use this cheese. Do you want to prepare a meal that is very rustic, very rich, with lots of heavy rain, the smell of fresh soil and minerals? Okay, then use that cheese.
I often think back on my friend’s grandmother when I am hunkering down on some amazing cheese. What if I could replace all of her canned and boxed cheese that night with my selection of cheeses? Well, let’s pretend I can, and here is what I would have done:
- Her Recipe – Pimento cheese spread on Ritz crackers.
- My Recipe – Riccotta cheese and green olive tapenade on cracked pepper crackers.
- Her Recipe – Velveeta and salsa on Triscuits.
- My Recipe – Cotija cheese and mango salsa on baked tortilla triangles.
- Her Recipe – Spray cheese and Spam on Ritz crackers.
- My Recipe – Southwest chicken salad and jack cheese on crostini.
- Her Recipe – Ambrosia salad with cottage cheese on graham crackers.
- My Recipe – Marscapone, thin-sliced mandarin orange and pineapple, topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt and honey on a graham cracker.
It’s amazing what an experience like spray cheese does to you. I still remember what she served that night!
Now, when serving these yummy treats to your guests at your next soiree, please be sure to incorporate leopard print somewhere in your outfit and do not forget your red lipstick!