I’ve always been partial to excess, in both love and snacks. In fact, I am nothing if not a binger and craver, with a long list of vices and small, mostly manageable obsessions. My cupboards and drawers are full of quasi-secret indulgences: Gum, chewed in mounds quickly, so the sweetness never has a chance to fade. Piles of heirloom tomatoes, tender enough to press with a tongue tip for the reward of a burst of flavor. Even lemon slices, sugared well and arranged carefully on plates as if I was casting a circle before a citrusy spell. And—of course—cheese.
Hard, salty wedges are my perennial favorites, reminding me of Mediterranean vacations I’ve never taken. In college, I occasionally ate nothing but cafeteria bread and haphazard slices of Pecorino Romano for days at a time. But when my husband and I found out I was pregnant, my dogged commitment to excess presented a dilemma.
Finding a proper pregnancy vice is surprisingly tricky. Just as your body lends itself to growth (Upwards! Outwards! All around!), you’re asked—er, expected—to do everything fun in moderation, or not at all. From waterslides to wine, I was suddenly asked to abstain, to measure, to back off. Nearly every dietary choice came under scrutiny. I begrudgingly took my once-daily coffee in sips, a far cry from the all-day caffeine buzz to which I’d grown accustomed.
But cheese—that was different. Cheese was nutritious, I could argue, yet still decadent enough to serve as a vice. After the early months of morning sickness and surviving primarily on crushed ice and crackers, I found myself yearning for just that: the satisfying press of knife against hearty slice; the rib-sticking feeling of too-muchness; the slick, wholesome mouthfeel of salt and fat and cream. And it couldn’t be just any cheese—I wanted Manchego.
One very pregnant Sunday, my husband took me to Trader Joe’s. I lingered over the cheeses, selecting the Manchego most likely to make me forget I’d been throwing up virtually nonstop for the better part of six months. Luckily, the cheese worked its magic. At home, I plopped myself onto the couch and the cheese onto the plate with a satisfying smack. I sliced it down to the rind, scraping up every last bit of goodness and pressing pieces between thick hunks of Italian bread.
I was tired of being hungry, of feeling watched. And though he wouldn’t have cared, I waited until my husband left for the day to polish off the block. My body no longer felt all my own. But this? This was all mine.
Illustrated by Tom Bingham.