Life is too short for bad cheese

Laura - Takoma Park, Maryland
Entered on August 31, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe life is too short for bad cheese.

I never thought much about it until I graduated from college and suddenly found myself thinking a lot more often about a lot more subjects than I’d ever thought before. Like many recent graduates, I had self-reliance thrust on me for the first time, and things that had been familiar were taking on new shapes and shades.

I was living in a foreign country and earning a little more than $200 a week. The abstractions of economics became concrete and food, which I had previously judged almost entirely on the merits of flavor, I was now measuring by price. Fancy cheese, which I’d long considered a comfort food, was an extravagance I did not think I could afford. And so I bought the cheapest I could find.

No doubt there are people who love Edam, people who crave it the way I craved peanut butter and Girl Scout cookies and Vermont cheddar. No doubt the cheese holds some peculiar charm for the chef who knows how to work with it, but that chef was not me. As a cook, I like to imagine that I have a special relationship with cheese, but the tricks I knew — to serve gooey under a benediction of walnuts and brown sugar, crumbled over apple pie or sliced thin over a salad of spinach and pears — didn’t work with Edam. The blocks I bought were rubbery and dull. They had as much flavor as modeling clay and the melting properties of lead, or so it seemed as again and again I scorched my tortillas waiting for the cheese on top to melt. Once out of the pan the mass instantly congealed into a cool, flavorless lump.

I made plenty of sacrifices that first year out of college. I rolled out piecrusts with a wine bottle and wadded a jacket under my head until I could afford a pillow. I learned to reevaluate the items I’d considered necessities and in many cases my compromises created an outlet for ingenuity and self-discovery. But I never learned to love Edam.

Then one evening at the supermarket, a creamy block of Gouda caught my eye. It was soft and round, and it beckoned seductively from the deli counter. I ate it with crisp slices of a tart apple and never looked back.

Life is short and cheese is good. And while I believe in the inherent value of sacrifice and compromise, I also believe in small indulgences. Back in the States, I love to make pizza for my friends, and I still roll out my dough with a wine bottle. But the cheese on top melts quickly in the oven and stays soft and warm long after the pie has been drawn out.