17 12 2008
Glorious cheese

Glorious cheese

Consider the cheese. Some time ago, a very long time ago, a poor farmer most likely decided to carry some sheep’s milk in a sheep’s stomach. This was about 10,000 years ago, so let us set the occurance between the rivers, between the Tigris and the Euphrates, that is. So our poor farmer is walking along with this sheep’s stomach full of milk slung over his shoulder. The day is probably warm and the milk sloshes around in the stomach, mixing with an enzyme in the stomach, rennet. The milk begins to coagulate, and by the time our poor farmer arrives at his destination, his bag full of milk is now a mass of sour curds. Well, imagine his surprise!

 Cheese is widely eaten and highly prized in the Western world. Not so much in some parts of Asia such as Japan, Korea, and China. But we do love our cheese. As the above video illustrates, cheese is available in multitudinous variety. Once again, in the dear old West, we put cheese on everything. Everything!

 Previous posts have asked the age-old question: “Is your dog finally getting enough cheese?” And cats can now choose ready-made chow with cheese and cranberries.

  I love cheese. I love a good hard English cheddar, a runny, smelly Limburger, and the King of Cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggiano. I love cheese sandwiches and melted cheese, and, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles-macaroni and cheese.

 Unfortunately, oh woe, I have learned that I am allergic to cheese (actually, all dairy, but cheese is what hurts). No, I am not lactose intolerant, I am just allergic to all dairy products. When I consume dairy I develop sinus problems which become sinus infections which cause pain and suffering and sore throats and fevers and sometimes calls for the administration of antibiotics. And so, I have learned not to eat cheese.

 On my deathbed, I will ask for an entire pan full of macaroni and cheese covered with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano. Oh, I almost look forward to that day. I also get rashes and my body inflammation goes up, but I might live with the risk were it not for the ensuing illnesses.

 And so I have truly learned not to eat cheese.

 I travel quite a bit in my work, and thus must eat out. In North America, not eating cheese, is, well…un-American! Everything comes with cheese, and it is so ubiquitous that menus fail to inform this hapless traveler. Waiters do not understand this simple sentence, “I am allergic to all dairy.” Recently, in a seafood restaurant in New York City, I asked the waiter to go to the kitchen and inquire of the chef whether or not there was cheese in the risotto. Now, I know that a classic risotto has cheese, but I love risotto, and hope-against-hope, and the waiter returned and said, no, indeed the risotto contained no cheese. And it was lovely, and it was creamy…wait a minute, “This is too creamy, damn it!” And, sure enough, the risotto was made with my beloved parmisiano-reggiano, but that didn’t count, I suppose.Macaroni and Cheese

 My travel also includes conventions. Where standing all day in cavernous, under-air-conditioned convention centers is the norm. The food begins at execrable and descends. So, at the ALA, the American Library Association convention, last June, I was pleased to find them serving hamburgers made with Hurst Ranch grass-fed beef. A small joy in a sea of culinary despair.

  Well, when lunch time rolled around, I marched up and order “one hamburger, NO CHEESE!” Then I grabbed a drink, paid for my burger, and went off to eat. The first bite tasted funny. I looked at the cross-section sans said bite, and there, beneath my Hurst Ranch grass-fed-beef-patty was a small yellow layer. No, it was not mustard. I felt sort of like a geologist examining the strata and trying to decipher what had happened. That yellow layer was, indeed, a slice of good old American cheese. Turns out, the server decided I was just too cheap or too poor to afford cheese, and I was kind of cute for an old fat guy, so she slipped the cheese under the patty, thus escaping the cashier’s detection, and I got free cheese! Well, who in the hell would not want free cheese?

 In Calgary, or as some Canadians insisted it was pronounced, Cal-GARY, we went to a steakhouse.  I ordered a steak with mixed vegetables, dairy-free, please. Well, out it came. The veggies were sprinkled with what was probably a pseudo-parmisiano-reggiano, and there, on top of my steak, was a big pat of butter. Thank god I asked for no dairy.

 In Dallas, last spring, friends took me to a Mediterranean restaurant. I ordered from the menu, looking for the slightest hint of cheese. I inquired and was told that my order was indeed dairy-free. Then out came my salad. The restaurant was dark. I leaned forward examining the salad by candlelight, and there, dear friends, I found tiny bits of…parmisiano-reggiano. I tried to explain my needs to the waitress who froze in terror. She ran for the owner, who came over and solved my problem.

 During the past year, I have learned, over and over and over again, my friend, that I’m in for the cheese of destruction (sorry Barry McGuire). All I can do is do my best and try and minimize my cheese ingestion, and we haven’t even talked about, beyond a bare mention, butter.

 So, if your dog is not getting enough cheese, well Fido can have mine.

Wikipedia says: The origin of the word cheese appears to be the Latin caseus,[2] from which the modern word casein is closely derived. The earliest source is probably from the proto-Indo-European root *kwat-, which means “to ferment, become sour”. In the English language, the modern word cheese comes from chese (in Middle English) and cīese or cēse (in Old English).  Similar words are shared by other West Germanic languagesWest Frisian tsiis, Dutch kaas, German Käse, Old High German chāsi – all of which probably come from the reconstructed West-Germanic root *kasjus, which in turn is an early borrowing from Latin. The Latin word caseus is also the source from which are derived the Spanish queso, Portuguese queijo, Malay/Indonesian Language keju (a borrowing from the Portuguese word queijo), Romanian caş and Italian cacio.The Celtic root which gives the Irish cáis and the Welsh caws are also related. When the Romans began to make hard cheeses for their legionaries’ supplies, a new word started to be used: formaticum, from caseus formatus, or “molded cheese” (as in “formed”, not “moulded”). It is from this word that we get the French fromage, Italian formaggio, Catalan formatge, Breton fourmaj and Provençal furmo. Cheese itself is occasionally employed in a sense that means “molded” or “formed”. Head cheese uses the word in this sense.