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Friday, September 18, 2009

Block Party: What Cheese Means to Me

Hi everyone! Today I am cross-posting an essay devoted to cheese that was commissioned by my best bud and fellow cheese nut, Erin (pictured left. We made some arts and crafts hats for New Year's Eve - and as an aside, a happy Jewish New Year to everyone too!).

Also, in working on this project, I realized that being commissioned to write about cheese was really a good thing. If you have any crockpot suggestions, please let me know! I am nothing if not extremely suceptible to peer pressure. But don't take my word for it, just read it in the Chinese character tattoo I got while on Spring Break with friends! We each picked one of the signs of the Planeteers from Captain Planet. Love it! Because there is no other choice as it is permanently affixed to my flesh.

Aside over - on to the cheese! Erin, thanks for letting me cheese up your blog!

What cheese means to me.

I was recently introduced to the Donald Hall poem “O Cheese” and instantly wondered why Donald Hall hadn’t been named poet laureate much sooner. I was unable to find the text of this poem reproduced in its entirety on the interwebs, but here’s a very special hunk of his cheese.

O cheeses that dance in the moonlight, cheeses
that mingle with sausages, cheeses of Stonehenge.
O cheeses that are shy, that linger in the doorway,
eyes looking down, cheeses spectacular as fireworks.
I read this poem as part of the required reading of a poetry class, and was instantly judgmental when several of my classmates suggested this poem was silly, saying things like, “Cheese can’t be wistful!” and “There are no shy cheeses.”

To me these comments made it clear both that their speakers had no taste when it came to what seemed to be Hall’s obviously staggering gifts of language, and that they had never tasted mild cheddar, a distinctly shy cheese.

When looking for this poem by internet search, I was not surprised to find a multitude of cheese devotionals – some as songs, some as poems, some as bad poems, others as recipes. All were sharing a sentiment that I certainly share with all of my being – cheese is awesome.

Cheese is so good that even imitation cheese is often good. Cheez-its. Nacho cheese. American cheese. Velveeta, certainly. And then there’s the pantheon of cheese flavorings and dusts added to crackers and chips and snack foods that turn our fingertips orange and encrust themselves in our bicuspids with regularity. When one reflects on the sheer genius of Doritos and Cheetos, it is humbling to realize those products are but mere imitations of a food so delicious, so varied, so beloved, that its ad slogan “Behold the power of cheese” is an understatement.

Things cheese improves:

Though originally inclined to say “everything,” I hesitated when I considered there might be some smart alecks out there who would say things like, “Oh yeah, does cheese improve murder?,” and I’d be presented with a both a moral quandary, as I might think even horrendous things would be helped by cheese, and the task of coping with the imagined crime scene covered in cheese. What can I say? I watch a lot of Law & Order. Really, I’m sure by now you’ve imagined the same. What cheese did you choose in your imagination? One you dislike? Because I didn’t. And that’s going to take some work to get that cheese out of the mind’s eye and back between some bread, on top of some meat, shredded on a salad, or straight from the fridge making a beeline for my face, where it belongs.
So let’s compromise and say cheese improves almost everything.

Short list of things cheese improves:

Any vegetable, most fruits, pie, cake as a category, bagels, bread in general (in on over under around between), salads, sandwiches, soups, snack foods in general (real or artificial cheeses or both together), meat, burgers, the foodstuffs of all countries whose food groups I’ve consumed (Italy, Spain, I mean, come on, you could be cheese-based economies with a little more effort), leftovers, nuggets of any kind, snack time, lunchtime, dinnertime, drunk snack time, hangovers, heartaches, headaches, horseradish, hors d’oeuvres, fried stuff, Fridays, family functions, family function, friendships, relationships, reputation of the state of Wisconsin, vacations, road trips, hiking, camping, fishing, humans’ love of cows, humans love of each other, humanity, and crackers.

And that’s a short list.

Cheese can be a solid, liquid or eazy-gas. Behold the power!

Cheese is a word every child knows means “smile big!” Coincidence? I think not. Behold the power!

Cheese is so revered that rappers have taken to calling their money “cheddar” or “chedda’” if they prefer not to bother with that final consonant. That’s ok, it’s not Wheel of Fortune. Really, what rappers have done here is ingeniously eliminated the linguistic middleman, as I spend a lot of my chedda’ on cheddar. And lately, Swiss singles from the folks at Sargento. Not bad. Good for snacking. Behold the power!

Really, and I am absolutely sincere in the following: many of my strongest bonds with people are cheese-covered, and stretch from heart to heart like the mozzarella that hangs between two pieces of pizza when you try to put one on your plate and it’s still connected to the pizza pie. For starters, my family certainly shares quality moments together hacking enormously large chunks of cheese off of a single block of cheese to stave off hunger in the ten minutes before dinner is served, effectively ruining our dinners, and allowing us to communally relish the deliciousness of the cheese. This is family custom. Cherished tradition. Always has been. Behold the power!

And I am, after all, only a visiting contributor to Erin’s blog because she too shares the understanding that cheese is such a superior, amazing, powerful food that it almost surpasses description as merely food. Cheese is a pretty integral part of our friendship. And we’re really good friends. Ask someone, it’s true!

Cheese – I’d stop the world and melt with you. I’m only ever as bleu as you. I’ve got to admit it’s getting cheddar, getting cheddar all the time. I love you cheese!

And how much do I want some cheese right now?

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