Say cheese

~~ Originally printed in Carrboro (NC) Free Press, May 2009 ~~

I don’t drink milk, but I am sure that I consume far more than my share of dairy products. In my house I swear we go through a quart of half and half and a pound of butter every week. Then there’s the whole milk yogurt and sour cream. Oh, and the cheese.

Right now in the fridge there is chevre, mozzarella string cheese, baby swiss, sharp cheddar, shredded parmesan, parm in a can, also known as shake-shake, a chunk of coveted Dubliner, and a container of homemade pimento cheese. And this is when we are in short supply and badly in need of doing some shopping.

I like cheese. My kids like cheese. When most parents were brilliantly focused on teaching their children to appreciate vegetables, from broccoli rabe to zucchini, I was teaching my kids to like cheese.

I can remember the first time Bailey tried Brie when she was four and loved it. I was so happy, so proud. And the time when Blake was three and offered cheese at a friend’s house. “I’ll have colby,” she said.

“Um, we don’t have colby,” she was told. “We have this,” which was a plastic wrapped cheesefood “single.”

“Oh,” Blake said. “Flat cheese. It’s OK. I like flat cheese.”

Caleb is nine and quite the consumer. He may be the biggest cheesehead of all. Somehow he has so learned the art of discernment that he can tell whether or not a mozzarella “cheese stick” is Polly-O, which in his mind is far superior to any other brand. And he wants the NY extra sharp cheddar, of course. It costs 50 percent more than ordinary cheddar.

I admit, I bribe my kids with ice cream just like any other mom. Dangling a trip to Maple View Ice Cream over their heads will usually get them moving. But if I really want them to do something I’ll promise true Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The good stuff, with all of its crumbly, salty granular deliciousness. I feel sorry for all those folks who think “ambrosia” involves coconut and mandarin oranges with Cool Whip.

I have other favorite cheeses. Morbier, with its layers of ash. Drunken goat cheese. Comte, with glazed apricots. Manchego, especially decadent with quince paste. I’m all about cheese accoutrements, too: olives and sopressata and marcona almonds and wine and sherry.

Mmm. Accessories for cheese. I like that.

I also like that cheese is all about where it’s made. Location, location, location. What the cows eat and what bacteria are in the air play a major role in the outcome. Cheese has “terroir” much like wine.

Here in Carrboro, we can get a bit spoiled by our cheeses. There is an awesome array of cheese to be found at Weaver Street Market, A Southern Season and Whole Foods. Being in such close proximity to local cheesemakers like Chapel Hill Creamery and Celebrity Dairy and Hillsborough Cheese Company can make anyone into a cheese snob. Don’t believe me? You haven’t seen people fight over the last end-of-season perfect button of New Moon cheese at Chapel Hill Creamery’s stand at the farmers’ market.

I imagine there are few places in the world where dairy cows and goats are as lovingly pampered as they are around Carrboro. It’s a good thing too. I’ve got to get to the market. The fridge is looking a little bare.

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