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Ruminations: A Cheese Love Story

Illustration of a couple dreamily holding hands in the midst of piles of cheese

Three days before Christmas four years ago, I went off to the gourmet supermarket to meet my future husband. Of course, that wasn’t my express purpose. My family was coming to town, and I thought fondue would make an easy, convivial holiday lunch.

Luckily, there was a wide fondue display stretching across the cheese case. Blocks of Emmentaler, Jarlsberg, and Gruyère were fetchingly stacked, along with pouches of ready-made fondue goo.

How to choose, and how to make the stuff? Helpfully, a store employee came to my side.

He had brown eyes and a name tag that read “Matt.” As he looked at me, he seemed to want to extend the conversation. “Sure, you could use the pouch,” he said. “But it’s really easy to make your own fondue. You get blocks of cheese, and add wine, and kirsch…”

Kirsch? What was that, and who had time for it? I had presents to wrap! “But the packets are still good, right?” I made the guy confirm. Then I cut off the conversation. Call it a woman’s intuition, but I got the distinct feeling that this Matt wanted to ask me out. The last thing I needed was to get picked up at a grocery store.

Two years later, Matt and I met again through our shared Catholic parish, and started dating. Once I found out he worked in the cheese department of my favorite supermarket, we realized we’d met before, and actually had that quick first encounter because of fondue. My gut feeling was right— he admitted he’d wanted to ask for my number back then.

By this point, Matt was heading to grad school for an MBA. Even though he wouldn’t be working in the industry anymore, cheese still gave us common ground for building our relationship. One of Matt’s early compliments to me—which I still tease him about—was, “You have a really good palate.”

I’m a traveler; I’ve developed an openness to foods from visiting nearly two dozen countries, so that didn’t surprise me. Matt doesn’t mind a trip, but his world centers more around home. With cheese, we can have cozy nights in and both be happy. We like to start dinners with a cheese plate that includes varieties such as Spring Brook Farm’s Tarentaise from Vermont, and Abbaye de Belloc from France’s Basque region.

Since I’m the designated globe-trotter, I use cheese to inspire trips big and small. If I want to visit my sister in Madison, I convince Matt to come by suggesting a visit to the country-meets-urban cheese shop Fromagination. If I need to work from New York, I promise to bring back can’t-get-’em- at-home varieties, such as Jasper Hill’s bloomy-rind Moses Sleeper, from Murray’s Cheese.

We plan around cheese when traveling farther afield, too. Last fall in Argentina we sampled grilled provoleta (a variation on provolone). We’ll soon visit rural Kentucky, where we’ll make a bourbon-and-cheese farm tour. And we dream of visiting the Azores, the Portuguese islands known for beautiful scenery and Queijo São Jorge.

Cheese helped us meet in passing. We could never have imagined that our first rushed encounter would lead to marriage (nor that we would have received four— count ’em, four—cheese boards as wedding gifts!). By combining both our interests, cheese set the foundation for something lasting. From now on, whenever we make fondue, we’ll stick with the kirsch rather than the goo packets—and we’ll do so as husband and wife.

Illustration by Aleks Sennwald

Lynn Freehill-Maye

Lynn Freehill-Maye is a food and travel writer based in upstate New York. She's written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Texas Monthly, Modern Farmer, and more. She's married to a former cheesemonger and believes all burgers should be topped with blue.