My Life in Cheese

Hello, dear readers! Had you given up on me? I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long. I’ve been starting a food writing course at the University of Adelaide, and also starting a new job! Sadly I don’t think I’ll be able to post very often over the next few months as I have so much study to do, but I will put up here the pieces I’m writing for my course. So, here goes with the first one…

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“There’s just bread and cheese for lunch,” my mother would say apologetically every Saturday when I was growing up. Often there was, in fact, something else too: a few slices of ham or salami, a pork pie, or a pot of fresh crab meat. But ‘bread and cheese’ was short-hand for a picnic at the kitchen table, and those two items were central.

I can tell you the story of my life through cheese, from early childhood around that table to adulthood far from my parents’ home. As I grew and matured and moved on, so did my taste in cheese.

It all started with foil-covered Kraft Dairylea triangles. They were impossible to unwrap; the only solution was to squeeze the glossy, cream-coloured gunk out of a tiny hole in one corner. Soon after, I ‘progressed’ to another great insult to the honour of cheese: square, shiny, bright-yellow Kraft Singles, best enjoyed in a floury white roll smeared with margarine. My father referred to them contemptuously as “plastic cheese”, but I wasn’t perturbed.

In my ‘tweens, my Aunt would collect me after Saturday ballet class and take me back to her lovely neat flat for wholemeal toast, a cut-up apple and Jarlsberg, or ‘holey cheese’ as I called it. It was reassuringly always the same balanced lunch and I am very fond of Jarlsberg to this day. Gruyère was first encountered molten and bubbling on top of scalding hot onion soup at L’Experience, a favourite French restaurant for special occasions.

There was always a brick of tangy, bitey Cheddar (known as ‘mousetrap’) in the fridge. It was equally satisfying with my mother’s apple chutney or in a sauce blanketing cauliflower florets and browned under the grill. Powdered parmesan on top of our spaghetti bolognaise was replaced, once we were old enough to appreciate it, by real Parmigiano Reggiano that we grated ourselves.

Through my mother I learned to enjoy pungent washed-rind cheeses like Port Salut and Chaumes, and to glimpse the travelling and life abroad I, too, hoped to undertake one day. A flirtation with the mild, sweet soft blue Dolce Latte lead to a love of the more daring Gorgonzola and eventually, when I worked in France for three months post-school, a full-blown affair with the king of the blues, Roquefort.

It wasn’t until I moved to London, after university, that I properly discovered goats cheese. I still remember those musky, tart discs perched on top of a perfectly dressed salad, at an elegant West End lunch with colleagues from my first real job. And despite growing up in Europe I didn’t have my eyes truly opened to the joys of Italian buffalo mozzarella until recently in Sydney. The newly-opened mozzarella bar my husband and I discovered in Darlinghurst air-freights these magical, milky pillows from Naples three times a week.

Despite all these years of cheese adventures, I feel I’m only really beginning to get the hang of what’s out there. With so much yet to learn and love, I can only hope it continues to be a case of life imitating cheese imitating life.

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6 thoughts on “My Life in Cheese

  1. A trip back down memory lane there with ‘mousetrap’ cheese and crusty bread for Saturday lunch. I made some camembert, some blue camembert, fetta and recotta on Thursday. The camembert and blue camembert should be just about ready for eating at the end of March. I will bring some down with me when we celebrate your becoming an Aussie, perhaps our celebrations may include some Aussie homemade cheese. I used the recotta in a bechamel sauce last evening, it gave it a lovely creamy texture and oh so rich! What is so interesting to me, is that the cheese has such a different texture depending on the breed of cows. And the yield is very different also.

  2. Dairy isn’t big in Singapore – or cheap. However there is a wonderful French restaurant we go to called Absinthe which has a cheeseboard from heaven. The food itself is awesome but typically the highlight is exploring a choice of six for dessert (three each and shared). Never the same twice and just superb. The restaurant was better – or felt like it – when it was a hidden gem (it’s now gone upmarket and mainstream since they knocked down it’s old home) and it’s not inexpensive but it’s the best dining experience I’ve had in Singapore. One of the few restaurants I go back to time and time again. If you’re passing through sometime we’ll go!

  3. Margarine! Never heard of it in our house!!
    Gosh, you know how to make a chap hungry.
    Coming round for bread and cheese and six Nations later?
    All love Dad

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