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Born to be Wild (About Cheese)

Illustration of a baby playing with blocks that spell out "cheese"

It started with my mother’s quest to find a snack food that would suit my toddler palate and dexterity. When she handed me a few Cheerios, I tasted one and handed the rest back. A series of other toddler snack attempts followed, but to no avail. Just when it appeared that I was destined for a snackless life, cheese came along, in the form of a fish: cheddar Goldfish, to be precise.

I was hooked. Goldfish were my first exposure to cheesy goodness. I even had my own name for them: “Wop Wops,” which was, I told my mother, what a fish says when it swims. I continued to use the nickname out of habit until an embarrassingly unrepeatable age. Today at 18 I’m pleased to say I no longer use this reference when reaching for my favorite midnight snack… But I’m getting ahead of myself.

When I was six I named two of my pet fish “Mr. and Mrs. String Cheese,” because they had whiskers that resembled the delectable string cheese I had come to love. Unfortunately, “Grumpy,” a bigger fish that shared a tank with Mr. and Mrs. String Cheese, also shared my sentiments about how tasty their whiskers looked and promptly ate his roommates. Grumpy and I were not on speaking terms ever again after that.

Around the same time as the String Cheese Massacre, I discovered the power of grated Parmesan, which I called “Shake Shake,” because that’s what you have to do to get the cheese out of the container. (I also used this nickname until an embarrassingly unrepeatable age.) At first I used Shake Shake just for pasta, but eventually, I was eating it with any kind of meal. Parmesan is still my go-to topping, and if a zombie apocalypse ever occurs, I can assure you that I’ll have enough containers stocked up to last for many years to come.

Other significant cheese moments live on in my memory, including the day I realized it’s pronounced “mun-ster,” not “monster”; the (best ever) Christmas morning I received a box full of different exotic cheeses; being introduced to organic mac ’n’ cheese on a trip to visit relatives in San Francisco (I’ve remained a premium-brand convert ever since); eating cottage cheese during middle-school lunches and effectively grossing out my friends; choosing my Xbox Live gamertag “Cheezewize”; and the day I declared that if I ever won the lottery or found a large sum of money I’d buy an entire wheel of Hook’s extra-aged Wisconsin cheddar and eat it all myself.

This month I’ll be heading off to college. While most incoming students are worried about the “Freshman 15,” I’ve got bigger concerns on my mind—such as how I’ll be able to keep up with my appetite for cheese away from home. My parents are already planning care packages. Regardless of what I study there, cheese will always be a part of my identity. To paraphrase what the always-quotable Kanye West said in his famous song “Jesus Walks,” I’m just trying to say, “the way schools need teachers, the way Kathie Lee needed Regis, that’s the way I need cheeses.”

Alex Shultz

Alex Shultz is a high-school graduate from a suburb of Dallas, Texas. His writing has been published by Vype Magazine, Vype.com, bleacherreport.com, dmagazine.com, cbssports.com, and slamONLINE.com.

Illustrator Dmitri Jackson

Dmitri Jackson is an illustrator, storyteller, wordy jester, and stone-cold pimp. He spent much of his adolescence moving from place to place, doodling as he went. Dmitri graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a BFA in illustration. He has displayed his left-handed wizardry for The Illinois Times, Source Weekly, Dissent Magazine, and The New York Moon.