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.