I got to take a class on cheese this week – yes, an entire 2 hour class just on cheese. I like cheese. I eat cheese quite a bit. But I didn’t really know anything about it except for what I like and don’t like. (Manchego good, blue cheese bad!) This class delved into how cheese is made (milk, cultures, rennet and salt – it’s the perfect whole-food food! You know what the ingredients are!); what types of milk are used (cow, goat, sheep, water buffalo, and basically anything you can get milk from); and the styles of cheese. I feel like I walked away with a lot of information that made sense and that I can use.
I also walked away with some more philosophical thoughts on cheese that also apply to food in general.
“Cheese should be a conversation.”
Cheeses are really like people. You can have a conversation by yourself (if you’re my kind of crazy you have them all the time), but once you add other people, things, ideas, into the mix, you’ve got a real conversation. Cheese on it’s own is good, can be great, but sometimes it needs a partner (cracker, almond, jam, honey, wine) to elevate it. Like people in differing situations cheese can change drastically depending upon the surroundings, its partners, even the room temperature.
“It has meaning to people – it’s not just food.”
This quote resonated because that’s basically why I started this blog. Food isn’t just food, cheese isn’t just cheese. R, the teacher for the class, told us stories about how cheeses were made, the traditions involved, even why cheddar cheese is colored with annatto. Everything has a story.
“You use all of your senses to eat cheese.”
Yes, all five, even hearing. If you listen carefully you can hear the crackle of the salt crystals when you break apart good cheddar. There’s been a lot of talk about mindfulness lately and particularly applying the concept to eating. I’ve been trying, but just attempting to slow down and focus on my food when I eat can be overwhelming with all of the distractions. Today, for the first time, I really got it. In trying to learn about the cheeses I had to focus on them, how they smelled, felt, looked, sounded and finally tasted. Focus on how the taste of the Boucherondin started out mushroomy and then the citrus notes appeared. How the mouth-feel of the Mt Tam was the same as the milk I use in my morning cafe au lait (because it’s made with Strauss milk). It’s not that I blocked the whole world out – I was laughing and having fun with my classmates, and that became the event. Like the dinner party scene in Babette’s Feast where the guests are enjoying an incredible meal but the true focus becomes their camaraderie, the enjoyment of the food can elevate the situation.
Like any good food cheese should be a conversation – and like any good food it can not only be a conversation, but a common language.
All quotes are courtesy of R, whom I promised I would not name.