Since one of my husband’s first distinct childhood memories had to do with eating steamers while sitting on someone’s lap, our teenage son’s foodie status should come as no surprise. So when Lucien started to pore over cookbooks—and then food blogs—and to be glued to the TV Food Network, I took it all in stride. His paternal grandparents, after all, always described their travels meal by meal, all other landmarks seemingly incidental.
His grandmother routinely presents a cheese plate when she entertains; this was the start of my 14-year-old’s cheese fascination. Now Lucien never misses the little basket of sample cheeses available for purchase at our co-op. He spends babysitting wages on exotic cheeses. For me, the gal whose cheese adventurousness pretty much begins and ends with Jarlsberg, his cheese devotion is unfathomable. But apparently, he’s not alone. Last fall, after nearly a year of talking about cheese on a daily basis with one of his teachers, they decided to co-teach a four-week cheese “minicourse” for some K-through-eighth graders.
About a month before the minicourse began, Lucien got to meet the infamous cheesemonger Matt Rubiner, of Rubiner’s in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, at a friend’s bar mitzvah (Matt’s nephew). Starstruck, my guy was so shy that he barely spoke to Matt Rubiner. However, he did get Matt’s card. Once dates for the cheese minicourse were determined, Lucien overcame his shyness and invited Matt to speak at one of the sessions. Matt accepted the invitation.
Week one was an introduction to cheese, complete with making mozzarella. Week two: the students cooked two batches of macaroni and cheese, one with authentic cheese and the other with a neon substance to observe the vast differences between the two. Week three: Matt Rubiner, guest speaker!
Here were the salient points of the class, as told breathlessly by my son:
- Matt brought samples of four cheeses. He chose a goat cheese, which most people liked, and a Brie, which many people also liked, and a pecorino that was extremely rare, as in perhaps one wheel in the United States and now half of it at the school (!), and a very stinky blue cheese called Cabrales that almost no child in the whole of the universe ever deigned even to taste, because it was so very odoriferous.
- Matt told the story of how blue cheese was invented, which, in a nutshell . . . uh, rind, goes: it was accidental. An abandoned half-eaten hunk of rye bread was left in the cheese caves, and several weeks later the mold covering the bread had transplanted itself onto the cheese. Thus, blue cheese.
- Matt described how he’d left academia (PhD candidate and research director at MIT) to live in an apartment with some grad student friends and essentially start his second graduate education at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Fast forward to his opening of Rubiner’s. He advised the students: “Follow your passion.”
No doubt that, for my son, this last part was a life lesson exemplified.
Written by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser
Illustration by Richard Mia