I was a normal person. Relatively yes, anyway.
Every time someone wearing an apron asked, “Do you want cheese with that?” I would say things like “Of course” and “Obviously”. You know, normal stuff.
When that question arises now, well, I always say these things, but only after doing a milk calculation.
Back when I was a civilian, I walked into a local grocery store for a breakfast sandwich and drool on sweaty patches of Velveeta stacked in lactic ziggurats. My fridge was never without pepper jack, the most exotic cheese in my repertoire at the time, with Trader Joe’s burrata, its spongy center bursting into a gush like a McGriddles.
Cheese was my all-time food, a welcome guest at any meal, and something to mindlessly chew on for Chip bag. Whenever I saw a pristine party tray full of Colby’s cubes tossed from a toothpick, I greeted it as warmly as a friend. Maybe hotter.
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Cheese was the deciding factor that took veganism a refrigerator too far. Eggs, I could do without them if need be; cheese, absolutely not. It could only be stripped of my life, just like the internet, in the event of an indescribable global tragedy, perhaps one involving zombies.
And somehow it never occurred to me back then that I had only glimpsed a small corner of the larger sprawling cheese landscape through a keyhole. , maybe by squinting.
There were clues. Clues. Hansel blue cheese and Gretel-esque crumble marking a path not yet taken. One evening, I invited a few friends to a wine and cheese party like adults. I went to the nearest overpriced gentrification shack in Crown Heights and picked up five vacuum-sealed wedges – Gouda, Brie, Jarlsberg, and the extra sharp and garlic cheddar – pairing them with some rosemary and olive oil triscuits. (At that point, I was miles away from knowing that cheesemakers consider flavored crackers a Class A food crime.) After proudly posting this murderer’s row of curds on Instagram, we started to post it. devour. Five minutes later, I noticed a depressing comment that a bartender friend had left under the photo: “Basicass Cheese Plate”.
Basic? Didn’t he see that there was five cheeses?
The heckling stung. Who was that guy to tell me – an enthusiastic, inexhaustible cheese lover – that I was doing something wrong? And what missing cheese did he think would raise my board to the level of respectability? Was it Manchego? Rather than think any further, I let the offensive comment creep into my mind and returned to my basic cheese life.
For a while, anyway.
The version of me that was enchanted by pepper jack is now dead. It’s not that I don’t eat anything less than the best cheese in the world all the time; is that I cannot pretend not to be aware of it. That’s the thing with the cheesy snobbery: once you open Pandora’s pantry, it stays open. You might as well try putting Cheez Whiz back in the box.
I will never eat an omelet again without knowing how amazing Gruyère d’Alpage would taste that would slowly sink into it, like a soft bed sheet collapsing on a pile of eggs. I have a hard time looking at the green parmesan cylinder, the odorless sawdust inside practically mocking Giorgio Cravero’s Parmigiano Reggiano – a cheese made entirely of guitar solos. I can’t eat a grilled cheese sandwich without wishing the melted cloth cheddar cheese was in the middle, maybe with some Roquefort mixed in too, for contrast and spice.
Once you know which cheese warps, you can’t ignore it. You can try to ignore its salty siren song, but your taste buds won’t let you forget.
Why would anyone want to forget about cheese?
This is how I stopped being a normal person.
It all started when I wanted to surprise my wife for Valentine’s Day. Being a continually surprising partner is hard work. If two people stay together for a number of years – let’s call it five – they begin to telegraph their every move like tired fighters. Each knows what to expect from the other and somehow comes to trust it, but they are always grateful for exceeded expectations. Otherwise, everything starts to look like a choreography. By early 2018, I had already surprised my wife, Gabi, with just about all the mind-blowing vegetarian restaurants in New York City, on various Valentine’s Day and the simple virtue of living in one of the biggest cities. gastronomy of the world. Romantic inedible gestures were also part of the exercise – a mechanical bull ride, perhaps, or a haunted house that was open in February for some reason – but an event meal was central to the experience. And it was getting harder and harder to find a herbivore in uncharted territory.
Before I started to strategize for that year’s Hallmark vacation, I had never heard of Murray’s, the Bleecker Street bulwark of New York’s native cheese scene. Murray’s is about as famous as a cheese factory can be. It started life as an egg and dairy wholesaler in 1940 and has grown into one of America’s premier cheese brands, with kiosks in over 400 Kroger supermarkets across the country. But to whom exactly is a famous cheese factory famous? Certainly not me at the time.
I first heard of Murray in an online ad touting the most decadent Valentine’s Day ever.
“We are doing everything we can for this unique, first-in-class, top-of-the-range tasting event,” the advertisement promises. “Nothing – and we don’t mean anything – is too good for our customers.
The insurance of the food which was almost too good for my wife was quite a hook. It would be a guided tasting through the boutique’s high-end inventory paired with equally impressive wine and a handful of luxury goodies. The romantic gesture and the food itself were cooked in one package of cheese. This was exactly what I was looking for: a candle jackpot.
Excerpt from American Cheese: An Indulgent Odyssey Through the Artisan Cheese World by Joe Berkowitz courtesy of Harper Perennial.
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