Ricky Gervais, the English comedian, once said, “the only reason I work out is to live longer so I can eat more cheese and drink more wine.” Maybe he was thinking about me when he came up with that one. I like a glass of wine, but my love of cheese borders on the unhealthy. Every time I pose for the camera and “say cheese!”, I’m salivating instead of smiling. I must be part mouse.
Cheese came into my life at an early age; probably true for most of us. A kid’s meal was a single slice of Kraft cheese sandwiched between two pieces of Wonder bread, mayonnaise or Miracle Whip for the glue. The cheese was technically “pasteurized processed cheese product” – infused with enough preservatives to sit in the frig for a decade and still taste the same. Like margarine. Or Twinkies.
By middle school I was making my own cheese sandwiches, with real cheddar cut straight from the brick. You could make the slices as thick as you wanted, and it was a great excuse to wield one of Mom’s biggest kitchen knives. One time though, the knife slipped from the cheese to the knuckle of my ring finger and the result was a small scar I still carry to this day. It’s like my little badge of courage, only for cheese.
When I discovered the wonders of grilled cheese, there was no turning back. We had this little cast-iron sandwich maker (the precursor to the panini press, I suppose) that would imprint a clam shell on the bread as it grilled the sandwich. Like I cared about an imprint, but it was a convenient excuse to crank out dozens of grilled cheese sandwiches.
Eventually I was adding Monterey Jack to my omelets, a spicy Mexican blend to my quesadillas, and handfuls of Mozzarella to my homemade pizzas. I was consuming copious amounts of queso. Cheese became its own level on my personal food pyramid.
Several years ago, in a particularly cruel twist of fate, I developed what I think was an allergy to cheese. Every time I ate a little Swiss or Ricotta my lips would puff up to the point where they didn’t look like lips anymore. Picture a blowfish minus the gills. No amount of antihistamines would bring me back to normal. It was like God waving a big white flag and saying “Dave, the (cheese) party is OVER!” Mercifully, the allergy went away and my cheese consumption returned to its previously unhealthy levels.
Trivia time-out: If you sample every variety of cheese ever made – one a day – it would take you more than five years to get through them all. Dang. My lips would explode.
My taste for cheese has become more refined in recent years. I actually sort through and sample all those little blocks you find at your supermarket deli. I’ll pair my cheeses with a nice wine for an overly elegant appetizer.
On a recent trip to Estonia, my wife and I visited a small dairy farm that specializes in cheese and yogurt production (our tour guide was appropriately nicknamed “cheese angel”). We bought an entire wheel of Gouda, just because I thought it was cool to have a “wheel” of anything. Shreds and slices, blocks and bricks; now entire wheels of cheese.
The U.S. is the world’s leader in cheese production, at more than 5,700,000 tons per year. You could pave a very long, very wide, yellow-bricked road to Oz with all that Provolone. I’d call us the “big cheese” of the world’s producers, wouldn’t you? Speaking of the U.S., Vermont has what may be the country’s only “cheese trail”. 40 dairy farms and cheese factories are networked on a back-country circuit of highways that covers most of the state. Many farms operate on an honor system, with free samples and help-yourself purchases. I need to go to Vermont. Tomorrow.
If I’m looking for an excuse to continue my copious consumption, they say cheddar, Mozzarella, and some varieties of Swiss and American help prevent tooth decay. But they also say without your gall bladder you’ll have a hard time digesting fats (like cheese). So I need to take care of that little guy. And there’s my reason to work out.