I am only one cheese lover with similar reasons for my love as millions of other people who relish cheese: the creamy smooth flavor, the sharp bite that pairs perfectly with red wine, the quick protein-filled snack, the naughty high-fat indulgence, and the perfect addition to most dishes. In my case, I have equated cheese with privilege since I was a child. Half-moon chunks of Colby and boxes of Velveeta indicated a flush pay period. If we had cheese, we likely had pickles and pop, and we would not be eating beans and rice more than once that week. Mom limited snacks to foods she deemed healthy and that we had on hand. Cheese always trumped apples. I served cheese trays with Ritz crackers to appreciative guests at sleepovers. The only cheese they had at home came in the big boxes doled out by the welfare office. I am not certain that Velveeta was much different from welfare cheese, but it was definitely a brighter yellow and came from the store, so it was better to us. An audience of cousins was attentive during readings of my latest stories and poems, giggling and “ooohing” at the right moments as long as there was cheese and Kool-Aid to wash it down.
I have hosted and attended few social gatherings during any season where cheese was not served. It is not only simple and universal, but daring and unique. Cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella and parmesan add another level of taste to everyday dishes, are savory eaten alone, and are an easy go-to snack for Moms harried by children whining that they are hungry. Feta, goat cheese, Havarti, Brie, and blue cheeses are loves that I buy for specific dishes, salads, and special occasions, and the children I know do not like any of them.
As you may have guessed, cheese has been a staple in my home for most of my life. In my 40’s cheese has taken on a different kind of daring persona, no longer limiting itself to my palate, but lending an air of unpredictable adventure to my digestive tract. Most of the changes this decade has foisted upon me have come as surprises, but few have been as uncomfortable as the one I suffered after eating a helping of six fried mozzarella sticks. Apparently the ranch dip did not contain nearly the amount of fiber required to fully digest the cheese and it sat in my gut like a leaden ball for 3 days. I panicked and railed against another change that would mean me giving up something that I enjoyed. Would I be able to eat cheese anymore? After I calmed down and the leaden ball was gone, I did what I always do when threatened by the removal of one of life’s rewarding constants. I experimented and found that mozzarella was less kind than feta, cheddar, and goat cheese, especially if they were on a salad. I learned about the importance of fiber after an uncomfortable lecture from my doctor and discovered that by adding a daily ration I could enjoy 3 fried mozzarella sticks without any problems. Cheese no longer trumps apples every time, but I can have both. I adjusted to cheese not being an everyday staple, but only because I had to. Even so, I tempt my digestive limits often, because I have a hunch that the cheese situation may change again in my 50’s.