For two years I lived in Belgium, where supposedly there is a different cheese for every day of the year. Just a few blocks from my house on Avenue de Versailles was my favorite store, Fromagerie Saint-Michel, and during those two years, I was a frequent customer. The ladies behind the counter were so helpful and allowed me to taste many different kinds of cheese on each visit. They would offer me suggestions as to which cheeses to serve together and what other foods should be served with them. I just loved shopping there.
Cheese has always been my favorite food. I’m pretty sure I could live off of cheese alone, although a crusty piece of baguette, with a thin spread of salty French butter, really makes a nice piece of cheese a whole meal. I love grainy, white cheddar cheese from Ireland as much as I love creamy, runny Brie from France. I like Swiss cheese with its big holes that look as though a mouse has been nibbling his way through the center. I like manchego cheese that comes from Spain, which tastes great with salty, green olives and honey-glazed Spanish almonds.
Of course, cooking with cheese is even better than eating it plain. Who doesn’t love rich and creamy mac ‘n cheese, which my mom baked in the oven until the macaroni pieces sticking up around the edges were crispy and golden brown. A grilled cheese sandwich on toasted rye bread, cooked on low heat in a skillet coated with butter, is a great Sunday night dinner while I grade papers and get ready for another week of school. All over Europe people gather together for dinner parties, happily dipping chunks of bread, slices of apples, and tiny roasted potatoes into a cheesy dip called fondue. A slight variation of this is raclette, which is a nutty, mild and creamy cheese that is melted in front of a fireplace, and then the oozing melted part is scraped onto plates and passed around. This is also served with really good bread and roasted potatoes.
Cheese isn’t just for lunch and dinner, though. In the Scandinavian countries, people eat sliced cheese and cold cuts for breakfast. All along the East Coast of the United States, people smear cream cheese on bagels, sometimes with crazy flavors and sometimes just plain. In Italy, people spread fresh ricotta cheese on slices of toast and drizzle them with honey for breakfast or as an after-school snack for their kids. And of course, there is no pizza without mozzarella!
Hands down, cheese is my favorite dairy product. Even though cheese is a close relative of yogurt, I could never love yogurt the way I love cheese. Cheese simply is the perfect food, eaten alone or on a sandwich, sliced or cut into chunks, made into a dip or melted and scraped onto bread, for me there is nothing like it. In fact, when someone is ready to take a picture of me, and they tell me “say cheese”, I am not smiling for the camera. I am smiling for the cheese!