Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cheezy Memories...

My brother brings out a plate of cheese for us to munch on as we chat about life.

"I have some really great cheese memories, you know," I say to him.

He smiles, "Cheese memories? You have cheese memories?"

Yes, I have cheese memories. Doesn't everyone?

My earliest cheese memory is when I was about 5 or 6. My mother was going through the conversion process with an older Jehovah's Witness couple. After every Bible study session, the older woman would bring out apple pie and a plate of cheddar cheese. I wasn't that interested in the apple pie but inevitably finished every slice of cheese on the plate and affectionately became known as "the mouse".

My mother made us Kraft Dinner regularly. That atomic orange, zesty cheese still reminds me of home. And then there was celery sticks with Cheez Whiz. Yet another ungodly version of cheese burned into my memory.

I remember the day Havarti entered my life. I was invited over to Sandra's house. Sandra was a Christadelphian, a religious sect quite similar to Jehovah's Witnesses, so I would often hang out with her during school celebrations that went against our shared beliefs. This particular day was my first time being at Sandra's place for lunch. Her mom made us grilled cheese, but with Havarti! Oh my. I was forever changed. Havarti has since become my preferred grilled cheese of choice, along with a little avocado and jalapeno pepper. Yumminess.

And then, of course, no discussion of cheese memories would be complete without the play of my Italian heritage. My paternal grandparents had us over every week for dinner, and there I was exposed to all manner of cheezy goodness. Scamorza, Provolone, Parmagianno, Romano, Caciocavallo, Ricotta, Bocconcini; they dance like sugar plum fairies across the tapestry of my childhood. I remember great big balls of cheese hanging in my grandparents cold room and my grandfather cutting one down for a meal and then placing it on the dinner table along with a knife and we just dug in whenever we wanted a slice. I like this way of eating. I wish we could eat like this all the time. Communal, simple, whole food eating.

The strangest cheese I've ever encountered? There is an Italian cheese called Casu Marzu, meaning "rotten cheese", so named because it is fermented by live insect larvae. Yes, that's right. There are live little maggots swimming in the cheese. Needless to say, I didn't try this one. But I watched as my grandfather savored every last bit of it, wormies and all.

My current cheese obsession is Brie. I first encountered it at a little French bistro a few years back, on a baguette with ham and dijon alongside. I like to eat it straight up, although my cousin does this amazing baked Brie with maple syrup and almond slices that makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

I pity those who are lactose intolerant. How can one possibly live a balanced existence without cheese?

tall penguin


Paul said...

You used to be able to buy that powdered (they called it grated) processed cheddar cheese flavoured food type product. It came in a little blue can, much like the little green can the grated parmesan cheese type product still comes in. We used to make my mother buy it and double up on the cheese when she made Kraft Dinner. We had really cheesy Kraft Dinner.

I don't know what makes me sadder; the fact that you can't buy that stuff anymore, or the fact that nobody calls it 'Kraft Dinner' anymore.

Elessa said...

i, too, love havarti. mmmm... grilled with caramelized onions and dijon mustard on a whole multi-grain bread.

my father loves different cheeses, so growing up we always had a nice variety with meals, crackers, on pastas, etc.

life without cheese would not be worth living!

latenightwind said...

Maybe I've always disliked Jehovah's because I haven't put up with them long enough for the cheddar pie to be served

Cheese cheese, maggots and cheese has a disgusting delciousness to it

By the way I've worked my way from Munsch to Kafka, your blogs are sugary, but I want to see some of your spontaneous midnight writings

Cheese, they always say "cheese" but it makes me frown for some reason

latenightwind said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tall penguin said...

"nobody calls it 'Kraft Dinner' anymore."

Really Paul? Perhaps it's a Canadian thing but my friends still call it Kraft Dinner, or more affectionately, Crap Dinner. :)

tall penguin said...

"i, too, love havarti. mmmm... grilled with caramelized onions and dijon mustard on a whole multi-grain bread."

Caramelized I'll have to try this one out elessa.

"life without cheese would not be worth living!"

Exactly!!! :)

tall penguin said...

"I want to see some of your spontaneous midnight writings"

Hello there latenightwind! It was great meeting your random acquaintance. Well, my late night writings sometimes make their way onto here, and sometimes they're just for me. My meanderings around life and the people in it. Sometimes it's creation and sometimes it's just therapy.

If you go back through my blog, you'll see a smattering of sugary as well as the not so sweet. Thanks for stopping by.

Rahul said...

This wonderful blog entry by the talented Tall Penguin has me thinking. I have a lot of reactions to her post, more than the comments section would do justice, thus this post (at the ok2passenge blog).

First, kudos to TP for the describing so well the concept of how a food category can be related to one's life. Certain cheeses represent certain memories for her. For me, certain meats, the smells and the tastes, bring memories of childhood flooding back; and from later years, places I travelled to. But certainly, cheeses, with their distinct flavours, textures, styles, personalities, relate us to ourselves from our past or present. This is an important observation, for it helps to understand how we categorize our experiences, and how we define ourselves.

Secondly, a cheese with maggots in it?! That's disgusting. I dare you to try it.

Third, I am semi-lactose intolerant. I push the envelope sometimes. I can handle a bit of cream in my coffee once in a while, but I prefer my coffee black. I can eat goat or sheep or buffalo cheeses. Or I can pop a Lactaid pill and eat regular cheeses, like cheddar, Havarti, and blue. Every few months I get a good craving, buy up a bunch of beautiful cheeses, add crackers and a nice bottle of Chianti and six lactaid pills. But even still, I must always avoid very soft cheeses and ice cream. I can never again enjoy ricotta for example. Or cream sauces. Lots of Italian dishes look nice on the menu, but alas, never meet my palate. Even gourmet pizzas can sometimes hurt me. Although most of the pizza delivery chains use such heavily processed edible oil products instead of actual cheese that I can get away with them without a pill.

Finally, some time in the last year or two I was introduced to a Greek sheep cheese called Kefralovriera (sp?), which is a hard, dry, salty cheese that I have come to adore. It is my favourite cheese. I love it with olives, wine, in sandwiches, with chicken, on salads, and just plain all by itself. I don't really know why I love it so much, but I know that somehow when I eat it, my senses remember a happiness I can't explain.

Cheese glorious cheese. Cheers to your post and your memories TP.

Bec said...

What a coincidence!
I just indulged in a grilled cheese and harvati sandwich. Delicious.

I'm completely cheese obsessed. When visiting Frnace, my favourite part was the ridiculously cheap cheese. The only problem was coming home and realizing that my 5euro france cheese cost $87.83 in Canada. How depressing.

Cheese memories are the best.

tall penguin said...

Thanks rahul for your comments here and on your blog. Cheers to cheese-lovers everywhere!

tall penguin said...

BEC!!! Yay, you're here!

I dream of what eating my way across Europe would be like. I can only imagine the cheezy goodness that would unfold. We'll have to chat cheese one day.

Vanessa said...

Hey Rahul,

That cheese you described sounds a lot like the one I ate all summer in Croatia:

"Our most famous and most awarded product is the Pag cheese (Paski sir). It is a hard type cheese made from the milk of the autochthon sheep from island of Pag. Pag cheese matures for 6-12 months; it has characteristic piquant taste, particular smell and mildly marble and grained texture. It is yellow inside and has golden yellow rind."

Nothing else has come close.

Anya, the island of Pag, Croatia is a must on your European cheese tour. It's just across the Adriatic from Italy... a beautiful 2 hour cruise would get you to Venice (or from Venice)!

Paul said...

I think it's a generational thing. I call it "Kraft Dinner" but my son calls it "Mac 'n' Cheese." I do also think it's a Canadian thing. Did anyone in the States ever call it "Kraft Dinner?"

Rahul said...

Vanessa - Crotia and Greece are not that far apart, they have similar climates, land attributes, and cultures, so I imagine there are a number of similarities in terms of foods like cheeses. Thank you very much for the tip about Pag cheese! I'm so excited to go and try it. :) Perhaps this weekend I'll hit Kensington or St. Lawrence Market and start asking for it. Cheers /rd

latenightwind said...

Your meanderings around life hmm

Well the writing you keep to yourself is much different from these blogs I'm sure

Reading someone's personal writing has an interesting feel to it, kind of like a picture of someone who doesn't know they're being photographed

Well whatever's in that little notebook of yours I'm sure it's juicy

Let me recall, you work at a book store. What did they ask you in the interview? If you were a character in green eggs and ham who would you be?

I should've put more thought into this damn username, opposite of tall penguin, short terradactyl?