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Ruminations: Taste Transformation

I used to hate mushrooms. HATE. I didn’t enjoy the flavor, and the texture made me feel like I was eating human ears. I could never imagine why anyone would voluntarily eat them, and I was always personally offended by the heinous vegetarian-friendly substitutions of giant mushrooms for the beef burgers I love so dearly. But all that has changed—because of cheese.

To me, one of the most interesting parts of the human experience is how our tastes transform over time. Until recently, I thought about this transition as an exclusively child-to-adult change. As a child I hated seafood (now I love it), and my favorite foods consisted of combinations of carbs and cheese (some things don’t change). But my hatred of mushrooms endured all the way up until I started getting serious about cheese, roughly six years ago.

I come from a family of Southern California dairy farmers, so cheese has always been a comfortable world for me.We don’t make cheese (yet), but from a very young age I’ve always held a deep pride for all things dairy. Cheese feels like home. I know how things work here.

Many cheeses can be described as having “mushroomy” notes, particularly in the bloomy-rinded family. At the beginning of my bloomy cheese journey I started with the more mild Bries and all the wonderful cheeses I probably thought were Brie—but definitely weren’t. Then I got into cheeses like Moses Sleeper from Jasper Hill Farm and Camembert—getting more funky and more mushroomy. They were familiar, but also new to me.

I don’t subscribe to the thought that if you don’t love pungent cheese you aren’t a real cheese person, but there is something to be said for working your way up to more funky flavors. The more I explored, the more I found cheeses that tasted like all the warm cozy things I love about autumn: roasted root vegetables, broccoli cheese soup, browned buttered mushrooms … wait.

Fast forward a few years to my friends’ apartment in Vermont. They are the kind of trusted food friends wherein I will eat anything they make, rush to any of their restaurant recommendations, and drink whatever they put in front of me, no questions asked. As we caught up over some wine and one or two cheeses on a cutting board, an extraordinary smell was coming from the kitchen—not an uncommon occurrence in their house. When it was time for dinner, a bowl of beautiful homemade pasta was put in front of me with—you guessed it—MUSHROOMS: My Enemy. And it was just about the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten.

It was official. My taste buds had gone through a revolution behind my back. By experimenting with flavors within the cheese world, I completely altered my palate outside of cheese.

There’s a lot going on in the world right now. Many people for many reasons are being forced or encouraged to look at what makes up their ideas, their work, their community, and the way they move through life. Folks are being asked to change, grow, and get a little uncomfortable.

Change is scary and awful, and I know I’m not alone in that feeling. But maybe if we try things that are familiar yet new, that effort will bloom into some good changes down the road. Or maybe we’ll all just start to love mushrooms.

Expecting me in my early twenties to go from liking sharp cheddars and triple-crèmes to earthy sheep’s milk cheeses and funky washed-rinds right away might’ve been a stretch. But going from Cabot sharp cheddar to … Cabot clothbound? Then Cabot clothbound to the sparsely blue-veined Quicke’s English clothbound cheddar? Then mild blue cheeses? Then… the options are endless!

I expanded my palate to the point thatI now LOVE things that I once fervently despised. And I did it unknowingly by exploring the peripheries of a world that was already very comfortable to me.

I certainly have my favorites, but there’s a whole universe of cheese out there And like other areas of life, even though I sometimes think I know a lot, the more I learn, the more I realize I’ve only scratched the surface. That’s pretty exciting.

Anne-Marie Pietersma

Anne-Marie Pietersma is an actress, comedian, writer, and cheese educator based in Brooklyn, New York. She is the co-creator of the podcast "Is This a Brie?" and owner of The Cheese Basement, where she curates custom food and beverage experiences.

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