Cheese Debate: Delicious or Disgusting?

JILLIAN LOVEJOY LOWERY: I have a love/hate relationship with cheese.  I love to eat it, but I hate how it settles into and amplifies my beer gut.  And, just as I don’t see myself going off the sauce anytime soon, I cannot imagine quitting the cheese.

As someone who vacillates between vegetarianism and pescetarianism, cheese is one of the great culinary joys I have left.  I choose not to have a delicious, rare steak.  Instead, I eat copious amounts of cheese, turning a blind eye to the fat it contains and convincing myself that I am ingesting delicious bites of nothing but protein and calcium.  The thought that someone can simply write off all cheese is simply unfathomable to me.

Some people have specific cheese preferences.  Some are squicked out by the mold factor of some cheeses and thus avoid them.  I have a dear friend who is horrified by the soft cheeses, because they remind her of the Blob, and she fears that the cheese will actually eat her.  To her, there is nothing more terrifying than an oozing baked brie.

Personally, I am not so particular.  I don’t think I’ve ever met a cheese that I didn’t want to eat the shit out of.  I adore all of the fancy-pants cheeses, but I even enjoy cheese that isn’t real cheese, like the aerosol stuff in a can.  I love Velveeta, for heaven’s sake!  And I’m not too proud to shove chunks of Cracker Barrel into my mouth.  Kraft Singles.  Yes, people.  I dig Kraft Singles.

Loving cheese this much is not without a fair amount of shame.  At parties where I don’t know very many people, I nervously camp out at the cheese tray and proceed to be that girl who blocks everyone else’s cheese access.  I have even binged on blocks of cheese in the grocery store parking lot, at night, because I could not wait the five minutes it would take to drive home.  This wasn’t a one-time event, folks.  This is something I do.

Suffice it to say, when I hear about someone not liking cheese, I’m suspicious.  Cheese is one of those things that’s pretty much just universally accepted as good.  If you’re anti-cheese, what else might you hate?  Puppies?  Rainbows?  Democracy?  Cupcakes?

That’s right.  I’m giving you the side-eye, Akie Bermiss.

MOLLY SCHOEMANN: I love cheese, with the deep, meaningful kind of passion that is reserved only for things that can be digested. After all, I love my fiancé too, but I don’t get to eat a plate of him with crackers at the end of a long hard day—and frankly, more’s the pity. Cheese has always been there for me, through the hard times, the soft, gooey triple-crème times, and the ripe, stinky times.

Oh man, especially the stinky times. I have a relatively delicate stomach but that goes out the window when it comes to cheese. A good, stinky cheese can do no wrong in my book. I can recall several times I’ve attended a cocktail party and been struck down by an offensive smell. “What IS that?” I’ll think. “Does someone need to put their shoes back on? Is there a vagrant sleeping in their own filth under the dining room table? Oh wait—it’s CHEESE! Yay, cheese! Num-num-num-num-eat-the-cheese.”

When I lived in Boston I used to throw wine and cheese soirees– half the purpose of which was to give me an excuse to hover around the gourmet cheese section of Whole Foods. There I would stand, agog, as the hills and valleys of fancy cheeses made my heart skip a beat. I envied those Cheese Team Members who stood behind the table and offered cheese wisdom and pairings advice. I wanted their knowledge and experience; I envied their proximity to the Land of Cheese. I remember an employee who once suggested I, “get a nice ripe pear and maybe some walnuts and serve them with this cheese right here. Maybe drizzle a little balsamic vinegar over everything. I did that last weekend at a party and it was delicious.” I recall staring fixedly at him for several minutes, trying to figure out a way I could force him to become my friend so he would have to invite me to his parties.

In fact, I’m not ashamed to admit that after finishing the above paragraph, I got up from the computer to raid the fridge for some cheese. Ok, a little ashamed. But nothing is that shameful if it’s done in the name of cheese.

AKIE BERMISS: I don’t pretend I’m not a finicky eater.  I am.  If something is too mushy or too hard or too salty or too bland, and I have the option of turning it down: I will.  I do not mess around.  I only get to eat about twice a day and usually one of those is on the go to or from somewhere.  I’ve had enough meals in my car, parked in a lot, to know the shame of scarfing down a fast food burger, fries, and a soda.  I’ve eaten at highway rest stops and 4-star restaurants.  I’m something of a food vagabond because I never really know where the next meal is coming from.  And, as such, I consider myself to be the Foodie equivalent of a “prole” (see: 1984, Orwell).  Still, I can be a downright bastard when it comes to eating things I don’t like.  People who are fond of me call me: persnickety.  Everyone else calls me a pain in the ass.

Well, be that as it may, at the top of my Hated Foods list is the world’s favorite: cheese.

You’re going to read a lot about cheese in this discourse and I’m sure ALL of it will be laudable.  I understand: cheese is awesome, everybody loves it, and its tasty as hell in every form it can take.  You’re going to read about delicious varieties of cheese… aged, sharp, moldy, smelly, hardened, melted, and otherwise.  And maybe even what its good on (ask a random person on the street and they’ll probably say: everything).  So that makes me the lone voice of reason here.  I am the singular sane voice in the mob. I am here to tell you that cheese is no good.  That it (and nearly all other dairy products) are overrated.  And if I never see a slice of cheese again — it’ll be too soon.

Radical thoughts? Perhaps — but revolution is always radical in someway.

I didn’t come to hate cheese so out of nowhere.  There was a time — an obscenely more innocent time — when I simply disliked cheese.  Like most other kids, you see, I didn’t like milk.  And I needed to put chocolate syrup in it in order to bring myself to even consider it a beverage.  And so logically, I thought, I didn’t like cheese.  It was just old milk.  Older milk than yogurt is — and yogurt was pretty gross already!  Something about cheese is simply abhorrent to me.  Is it the process by which it is made, its milky origins, its cheesy consistency (solid and melted), or its usually pungent taste?  I don’t know.  But I just couldn’t get with it.  So when all my friends were eating grilled cheese sandwiches, I was sticking to PB&J.

This caused some strife in my personal life.  My family — all cheese lovers — saw this as a great gourmet betrayal.  My parents used to joke that perhaps I wasn’t their child.  And I was the cause of constant dismay when company came over.  Everyone else is eating mac and cheese, but Akie is going to need a little pot of rice for himself.  And I had to fight for that rice to prevent others from dipping in it.  They could eat both — but all I had was my sweet, tender rice.  It was the alternate, the frequently forgotten OTHER option for these cheese haters.  And that was always just me.

At school, my holding position against cheese became untenable.  At first, when I was young, they made special dispensation for me.  My parents would list it as an allergy and, when we went on trips, usually they made sure there was a cheese-less option for me.  As I grew older, though, it made me a pariah. A source of constant frustration. All the clubs and classes and trips where people wanted to have a pizza party — and I’d be the lone voice of dissent: “I don’t like pizza. It has cheese.”  Well that was met with blank looks, then awkward glances, and finally: it was simply ignored.  So, after a successful basketball game: we went out for pizza.  At ALL the birthday parties I attended through out grade school (and much of Junior High): pizza was the soup du jour.  When the semester came to an end and all our kind teachers wanted to throw a party… was it cake they offered? Chocolate? Ice cream, even?  Nope: it was pizza.

Suffice it to say, I spent a lot of parties filling up on corn chips and soda.  When I’d really sunk to my lowest level, I was relegated to eating the crusts.  Like a pig eating slops, I’d get a mound of collected crust scraps and I wolf them down like a starving child.  Sad to think of it now, really.  On better days, when I felt comfortable with the company I was keeping, I could peel the cheese off of a slice of pizza, blot the slice with a napkin, and eat what was left.  Some of my good friends today are the people who would take that left over cheese from me to buff up their slices and didn’t make fun of me for the process.

Alas, adult came too quickly, and there is no mercy among teenagers.  Every explanation that I disliked cheese was met with utter incredulity.  No — it couldn’t be possible.  Had I tried EVERY kind of cheese? (No.)  Then how could I know that I didn’t like ALL cheese?! (I don’t know… it isn’t all made from milk?  Its all basically made up of the same ingredients.) But all the cheeses are sooooo different!  And so good.  Have you tried cheddar?  Or Monterey Jack?  Or Swiss cheese?  How about a smokey so-and-so, or a sharp something-or-other?!  NO?  Then I clearly had no idea what I was talking about.  I got all kinds of challenges and invitations (“Come over to my house and try my so-and-so, and THEN tell me you don’t like cheese!), all of which I turned down — which seemed to be, to cheese-lovers, a tacit agreement that I WOULD like it.

Then I started being old enough to eat at restaurants.  I’d ask for something, but with no cheese.  If I got that far, if it was something a chef or cook would make without cheese, then I considered myself lucky.  Unfortunately, so many things are made with cheese it was not uncommon for my food to come out with cheese all over it, nonetheless.  And then a wait-person would say, “if its really a problem I can send it back!”  As if to say, “Really?  Just scrape of the cheese, you jerk!”

Here’s the thing about cheese.  Its cheese.  All the things you love about cheese, I bet you don’t even realize.  It smells just so, it looks just so, it tastes just so.  When you put a slice of cheese on something (even if you don’t melt it) and then take it off, that something is going to have a distinctly cheesy flavor.  Cheese is fatty and oily and that crap gets on MY food and then I have to sit there and eat a gross cheesy meal because apparently I’m a great big dweeb.

Then there’s the SUPER condescending: “But you don’t even taste it!”  Listen up, people.  If there’s cheese in a dish, I WILL taste it.  If it weren’t taste-able, why would you put it there?  And don’t give me that texture crap.  People say that ALL the time about Parmesan: “Oh you can hardly taste it! It just for texture!  It just blends all the other flavors together!”  Screw you — if I want my flavors blended together, I bet I could do that by chewing.

Well, by the time I was a full-fledged adult: I hated cheese.  I still do.  And now I have abiding distaste (haHa!) for all dairy products: butter, yogurt, ice cream, etc.  I admit, I like cream in my coffee, but only because coffee is the one thing on this planet that has the power to mitigate milk’s spectacular grossness.  I’ll eat ice cream for the sake of being a gracious guest — but not cheese.  I refuse — I REFUSE! — to eat cheese just because YOU say its awesome and you put it all over YOUR food.  I don’t care how great its supposed to be — no food it so spectacular that I should have to forfeit my right to dislike it.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve actually been told by dinner companions to “just eat it” so as not to offend my host.  When I got to eat at someone’s house, I let them know up front what I can’t eat.  If they forget and screw up, I’m not obligated to eat that crap!  Not even “just a bite.”  I don’t care “what I’m missing.”

You cheese people with you cheese hegemony.  You have no respect for the individual.  You are like lemmings headed to the slaughter.  You THINK, because you like this cheese over that cheese, that you possess some level of self-determination, but really you are simply a pawn in cheese’s game.  If I must be Howard Roark (see: The Fountainhead, Rand) in your bland cheese-infested mediocrity of an existence — so be it.  I say that CHEESE is the opiate of the masses.  I say that it is CHEESE and circuses that keeps the proletariat consumed in their little insignificant dramas.  Society’s ills should be blamed not upon “The Man”, but upon “The Cheese.”

One day, you may all wake up tired, hungry, and alone.  The world may be a dystopian nightmare of poverty and injustice.  And your very life’s focus may be reduced to simply the next meal.  And on that day, my vengeance shall be wrought.  On that day, I — who will have then built and empire of cheese-powered robot enslavers — will look down upon you all from my mountain/castle of rice and as your politicians, chefs, and “community organizers” plead for me to show mercy, I shall say:

“Is there no cheese?  Let them eat cheese.”

And, at last, I shall be satisfied.

DAVE TOMAR: There’s a special place in my heart for cheese.  According to my cardiologist, the scientific name for that place is ‘the right ventricle.’  I was told that if I don’t cut down on my cheese intake, there is a good chance that my blood could coagulate, forming what I suspect will be a delectable soft camembert best served on crostini with fresh cranberry chutney and crushed walnuts.

I was born lactose intolerant but found the worldview too restrictive.  At a young age, I determined instead to be intolerant of Olympic skeet-shooters, and to accept all cheeses equally.  This was a good tradeoff as I rarely if ever meet an Olympic-ready skeet-shooter.  With respect to cheese, my encounters are admittedly multiple and daily.  To me, it is an appetizer, a main course, a side dish, a condiment, a garnish, a dip, a dessert and an orange residue left on your fingers after a bag of Doritos.  Don’t hold me to this last one.  I don’t know if the Dorito-film can be called cheese in the scientific sense.  But it is a cheese-influenced artificial flavor that conjures the most wonderful pre-diabetic euphoria.

I will spare you the list of cheeses that I would be willing to eat on a sunny day in Death Valley without a napkin.  The bluer, stinkier, sharper and more questionable, the more I want to bite into it like an apple.  I prefer to sweat while I’m eating cheese, or in the case of the salad dressing form of blue, I prefer to sweat while I’m drinking it from a cocktail glass with a little pink umbrella.  If you produced a crumbly gorgonzola cultured from Rosie O’Donnell’s sock and told me it was unlike any other cheese I’d ever tasted . . .well I’d have to know.

Here’s how much I like cheese.  Wikipedia reports that “it is probable that the process of cheese making was discovered accidentally by storing milk in a container made from the stomach of an animal, resulting in the milk being turned to curd and whey by the rennet from the stomach.”  That makes me hungry.

To give you some respect for a commitment to cheese that transcends even my culinary desires . . .and I say this in all seriousness . . . I am engaged to be married to a woman named Bree.  She really, genuinely hates cheese-oriented puns in connection to her name, so let’s suggest that this is instead a Freudian admission about my strange unconscious turophilic tendencies.

I understand that cheese doesn’t need any more friends.  It has the French.  But if I may make a contribution to this discussion, I feel very close to cheese and I’m willing to stand up for it.

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3 Responses to Cheese Debate: Delicious or Disgusting?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Cheese Debate: Delicious or Disgusting? | The Perpetual Post -- Topsy.com

  2. Chris Pummer says:

    Cheese is pretty goddamn delicious. I’m sorry you feel this way, Akie. I’ll admit I do like a nice rare hamburger unsoiled by cheese. But that doesn’t make me a fence-sitter. I think cheese is good.

  3. Akie Bermiss says:

    Chris — I’ve learned, over the years, to accept the fact that everyone likes cheese. I’ve only ever heard of one other person (the wife of a friend and co-worker) who doesn’t like cheese. i know this person exists, but i’ve never met them and so, as Decartes teaches us, i can’t be sure of her substantiated beingness.

    that said, i stand by my hatred. and if, as Jillian posits, that must also be an enemy of sunshine, rainbows, democracy, and cupcakes: so be it.

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