My first memory of cheese is peeling the plastic wrapper off a sliced of processed cheese. For my immigrant mother the thin, individually wrapped slices was a marvel of American supermarkets. That’s what Americans ate. That’s why they called it American cheese, right?
As I grew older my mom started buying different, less processed cheese: cheddar and pepper jack. Mom loves eating cheese even if she her body didn’t. Like many Asians she is (was?) lactose intolerant. She didn’t consume much dairy growing up in Vietnam.
My taste in cheese also matured as I grew and attended more “white people parties,” as I came to know them. You know, those gatherings where there’s usually veggie platter with hummus, a cheese platter with crackers and a version of a creamy spinach dip. You’ve been to those sorts of parties?
At first I didn’t want to try the soft, stinkier cheeses. The idea of eating bleu cheese made me gag. The smell of the cheeses reminded me of my mom’s warning about eating Vietnamese food: Don’t let your friends know that we eat this stuff because won’t like the way you smell afterwards. Some of my Korean friends received similar warnings about eating kimchi outside the home.
I don’t remember a major turning point for my cheese eating diversification. My husband, who grew up in the midwest, introduced me to his love of apple pie and colby cheese (at the same time). I started to love grated parmesan cheese on my pastas (thanks Olive Garden!). With a glass of white whine in hand I sampled baked brie with honey for the first time (underwhelming).
When the Trader Joe’s opened near our current home several years ago, I remember standing in awe in front of the cheese case. My husband found his beloved cheese curds (sadly, now discontinued). I picked a safe chevre (goat cheese) to try. Then I tried the chevre log rolled in dried cranberries (only sold seasonally, alas).
After reading Kathe Lison’s The Whole Fromage, I’ve taken more chances in the cheese department. I picked up a soft, creamy, stinky cheese and loved it. Once I learned that soft, creamy, stinky cheeses tasted better at room temperature I couldn’t get enough. I gleefully spread it on a cracker and add a dollop of fig jam (from Trader Joe’s) on top. The perfect late night snack.
Earlier this week, I picked up my very first Camembert after reading Lison’s history of French Camembert. I know it’s from Trader Joe’s but I’m just dipping my toes into the stinky cheese world.
This post was inspired by The Whole Fromage by Kathe Lison, who traveled to France in search of its artisanal cheeses. Join From Left to Write on August 22 as we discuss The Whole Fromage. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.