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Ruminations: To Have and to Mold

There’s a piece of cheese in a Ziploc bag that’s been sitting in my freezer for two years. It’s crumbled into a million pieces, is definitely inedible, and has turned a weird color best described as freezer-burn chic. It’s also my engagement ring.

Some women dream of princess-cut diamond sparklers perfectly fit for their fingers. I never caught that bug, but my dairy desires run deep. From béchamel-y macaroni and cheese to a bracingly sharp English cheddar eaten solo, cheese has always been one of my core food groups.

When Jon and I started dating a decade ago, curds became the (welcome) third wheel in our relationship. We’d polish off La Tur in a single night, entertain friends with Ossau-Iraty and Harbison, and make tacos with small mountains of cotija. Or, um, just melt cheese on pita and call that dinner. Our three-way was symbiotic: We loved each other, we loved cheese, and cheese was good to us. Wins all around.

Still, we ignored Valentine’s Day and regularly forgot dating anniversaries. I think roses are tacky. Boxes of chocolates? Please. Because I’m so turned off by manufactured romance, Jon knew that if he was going to surprise me with a marriage proposal, it would have to be in the most mundane of settings—like, for example, a Los Angeles airport hotel. I was staying there for a night after returning from a trip to New Zealand, and he flew cross-country to surprise me.

To prepare, Jon phoned Andrew Steiner of Andrew’s Cheese Shop in Venice Beach to ask what type of cheese could be easily sculpted into bling. They landed on Tomme Brulée, a semi-hard raw sheep’s milk cheese from the Basque region. Jon then carved the wedge into a ring with a plastic knife in a parking lot while waiting for an In-N-Out burger to “pair” with my jewelry.

As I settled into my hotel room, the doorman knocked, presenting me with the burger. I was … confused. Then he knocked again, this time bearing fried chicken. Then it was cauliflower (from a restaurant I wanted to try). Finally, it was Jon at the door—on one knee, offering me a misshapen piece of cheese as a symbol of his undying love.

If he had popped the question with a diamond ring, I would have had doubts about our future—did he know me at all? But the pecorino bauble strangely proved we were meant to be. I said yes, then polished off the burger.

At some point we’ll throw out my engagement ring. Really—it’s become one of those Unidentified Freezer Objects that you discover lurking in the back corners during a major cleanup (plus, I now have an understated rose gold wedding band). But the smooshed plastic bag is also a sweet reminder that expressions of love come in many forms, and it’s often the unexpected gestures that mean the most. Diamonds may be forever, but for me, a moldy, disintegrating cheese ring is way more precious.

Illustrated by Aleks Sennwald

Carey Polis

Carey Polis is the editor of bonappetit.com and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. Beyond cheese, her other loves include beans, potatoes, burgers, and pasta.