"It's the cheese!": the side effects of loving cheese a little too much
In sharing stories with fellow cheese dorks, I’m starting to realize the extreme measures to which people will resort for a fix. I’m not talking smuggling French cheese past U.S. customs in one’s underwear, although that’s certainly admirable.
No, I’m talking about situations that are perhaps a bit humiliating, if not outright pathetic. I seem to find myself in these situations with some regularity, in part because I’m frequently on the road (here or overseas) for my work as a food and travel journalist. The fact that I’m lactose intolerant just adds to the fun.
I first became fascinated with the fledgling Australian artisan cheese industry (see my article in the Winter 2010 issue,"The Dairy Down Under") in 2002, after a chef I knew in Sydney turned me on to Gabrielle Kervella’s chevre. Kervella, who has since retired and returned to her native New Zealand, is Australia’s doyenne of goat cheese. Not only did she galvanize a cheese revolution; she was a damn fine cheesemaker. Eventually, I got to meet her, and that’s what set me on a mission to meet as many Australian cheesemakers and try as much of their product as possible.
A year or so after meeting Gabrielle, I went to Melbourne to meet Will Studd, a cheese importer, respected author, and the host of Cheese Slices. He has since become a friend, but on our first meeting, he was mostly just amused by my obsession with Australian cheese, and invited me back to the warehouse for a look around. As a parting gift, he gave me three wheels of Australian triple crème and washed rind cheeses, and an illegal Camembert (at the time, Australia had just reversed a law permitting raw milk cheeses into the country, and Will had been forced to burn an entire shipment of Roquefort—something that made national headlines).
It was a typical Melbourne summer day; that is, it was 100 degrees, with a shocking level of humidity. There were no taxis in the industrial neighborhood, and after 15 minutes or so of wandering up and down the street, sweating like the proverbial hog, I went back to the warehouse and asked one of the employees to call me a cab. Another 15 minutes went by before one pulled up—by that time, the cheeses, crammed into my daypack, were starting to get fragrant.
I leapt into the cab and tossed my pack beside me. The driver, an adorable young Greek, turned back to look at me. “Where to?” he asked. “St. Kilda,” I replied, which is where I was staying in a sleek little boutique hotel with Stuart, an Australian guy I had an on/off relationship with.
Midway through the ride, the gregarious driver sniffed suspiciously, and turned to look at me with a grimace. Uncomprehending, I asked, “What’s up?”
“Did you…uh..?” he stuttered, embarrassed. A nearly visible vapor of funk rose from my backpack, enveloping his spotless cab in its fumes. Oh.my.god.
I found my voice. “It’s cheese!” I cried out. “It’s not me…it’s the cheese!”
Once I explained the story to him, he was delighted. He was a fairly recent immigrant, homesick, and like most Greeks, loved cheese and cooking. When he dropped me off, I gave him a wheel of Brie for tolerating the stench.
For the next two days, the cheeses sat in the tiny, too warm, mini-bar fridge in our hotel room. I was waiting for a chance to pick up a bottle of wine and some bread, and have a romantic little picnic with Stuart, even though he didn’t share my dairy obsession. By the first morning, their putrid aroma was so powerful, I was forced to leave a note for housekeeping telling them not to dispose of my precious goods. Truthfully, I was afraid they’d mistake the smell for a rotting corpse.
By the second day, the room was taking on the odor of a landfill full of decomposing bodies, prompting poor Stuart to enquire pointedly, “Are you ever going to eat those f-----g cheeses?”
Since we had to check out later that morning, I had no choice but to dig up a plastic spoon and- because Stuart forbade me to unwrap them in the room- furtively eat my lukewarm, gloppy cheeses while sitting on the already steaming, slanted rooftop adjacent to our window.
Because my lactose intolerance prohibited me from eating as much as I wanted, I had no choice but to chuck the bulk of the cheeses in a trash bin on the sidewalk, lest the hotel charge me for fumigating the room. It pained me to do it, and I bet a certain main street in St. Kilda smelled really, really good by the end of the day.
What can I say? I love cheese.