No Cheese? Pul-eeze!

Obama Cheesehead.jpg

A friend of mine, who is American, lives in France and is married to a Frenchman.  Her husband says that if he ever hears one more French person living in the U.S. complain that they cannot find good cheese to eat, so they’ll have to fly home, he might have to hurt someone.  Or at least say very nasty things.

My friend’s husband says this largely because he finds the conversation so repetitive and predictable.  But it is also off the mark.

First of all, let’s face it: many, many countries make excellent cheeses.  We spent quite a while sampling cheeses in the area of Padua one summer while I was teaching a summer school workshop there, and were not at all disappointed.   On another occasion, in Rome, a Roman sitting at the table next to us in a restaurant chided us for ordering gorgonzola because it isn’t from the region.  When the already-ordered-gorgonzola arrived, we found that he was right.  It wasn’t tasty.  There were plenty of other cheeses to try; we were just riding on an Italian cheese cliché.  Busted.

My mother grew up living with her grandfather who spoke Norwegian and ate limburger cheese (which is German).  She said that he stored it in the cellar (not a basement, I assure you), and that it sort of oozed down the stairs like a slinky.  Perhaps motived by this image, I developed a great love oflimburger, which is easily available to me in the U.S.  My husband also likes it, and so a nice chuck does not last very long in our house.  (My mother, on the other hand, stored her Norwegian geitost cheese – weirdly brown, smooth and sweetish – right in the fridge for us to see. I never learned to enjoygeitost).

Secondly, though, times have changed.  Do people around the world really think, really truly, that Colby cheese (that orange stuff) is the only cheese you can buy in the U.S.?  Sure, when you buy French cheeses in another country, they have to be made of pasteurized milk. But before we even spit out the word “pasteurized,” be careful to understand what it is and where it came from.  Pasteurization is the process of heating a food usually in liquid form and then cooling it quickly in order to slow microbial growth.  Long-duration milk for sale in France and used by the millions of litres is super pasteurized.  The pasteurization that we know nowadays was was developed by the French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur.  But you knew that.  It may arguably take away the great taste of cheese, but in France there have been discussions of requiring pasteurization, even before the possibility arose that the EU would consider laws that leave one no choice.

Anyway, you can get all sorts of cheeses in normal grocery stores in most places that I have lived in the United States (you can back up to another post to find the list of those states; I can’t speak for other states).  Furthermore, and this is the point, some of them are MADE IN THE U.S.  No! you say.  Yes!  I say.  My father, knowing my vulnerability to the very cliché of which we are speaking (i.e., can’t get good cheese in the U.S. so gotta go to France), and my friend PJ as well, introduced me, just for an example, to Carr Valley cheeses in Wisconsin.  Oops.  They are very good.

It’s much more than that, though.  Now there are goat farms and sheep farms fabricating their own cheeses.  In so many states.  I thought things were fine because French cheeses were easily accessible in the U.S., but then I learned that “buying local” wasn’t just some new, green, catch phrase.  


Posted by Paula Niedenthal at 11:37 PM JUL 28, 2011