An Affair (with Cheese) to Remember

I hit a turning point in my life when I discovered my love for cheese. This sounds shocking, but I hated cheese growing up unless mom disguised it as something else, like on pizza or a hamburger. No string cheese for me, no little wedges with the cow face on them for snack, nuh-uh, nothankyou. Just give me some Teddy Grahams and I’ll be happy.

I had always been a picky eater. My list of no-can-dos would have intimidated even the most easy-going of mothers: broccoli, brussels sprouts, mayonnaise, mushrooms, cantaloupe, apple pie, parsnips, jelly, wild rice, tuna, salad dressing of any kind. I could extend that list, but I’d like to finish this blog post sometime today.

My mother had an effective rule that allowed me to at least get some nutrients from my food without requiring I sit at my untouched plate for most of every evening; the now-infamous Three Bite Rule. In order to be excused from the table, I had to eat, chew and swallow at least three bites of everything on my plate – substantial bites, none of the tiny little manipulative nibbles that I probably would have attempted had my mother not been wise to my craftiness. I, in turn, learned how to plug my nose while I chewed. That way, I could hardly taste the urine-scented brussels sprouts as I grimaced through every mouthful.

When I went to France at age twenty-three, my entire world-view shifted. I knew the protocol while a guest in someone’s home in a foreign country – you try anything set before you. I don’t care if they serve up fried tarantula with a pickled newt eyeball glaze, you try it and you smile the whole time. Doing otherwise is rude.

This is how I ended up discovering cheese.

During the first week abroad, I found myself the honored guest of a French family and friends as they gathered for dinner and a spirited viewing of the world cup game. The entire country tuned in to see Le Bleu defeat Germany; we watched (and yelled) during the cheese course. For those unfamiliar with French dining, they typically enjoy cheese at the end of a meal, instead of dessert, which so far I had found a disgusting custom. Mind you, I hadn’t voluntarily eaten cheese in fifteen years.

Still, when the hostess offered me a local specialty, chèvre, after several protestations of fullness I took a nibble.

OH MY GOSH, I had been missing this my whole life?

The rest of the trip I spent in a haze of cheese and baguette, as well as other foods I had heretofore never considered. Gizzards on a salad? Yep. Unidentified lunch meat on a sandwich? Sure thing (turns out it was prosciutto, a culinary gift from God Himself). I gorged on the best food of my life, as well as Raclette, Gruyère, Roquefort, Camembert, Brie, and yes, chèvre. Turns out, I didn’t dislike cheese – I disliked cheddar, the only kind we ever ate in 1980’s and 90’s suburban Los Angeles.

I cried on the plane ride home, partly because I knew I would miss France, but partly because I knew I would never eat so well again.

Since that time, I have been more open to trying new things. I still have a list of foods I won’t eat, but it’s significantly shorter. Mayonnaise, raw button mushrooms, and powdered creamer are still a no-go, and any kind of low-quality coffee is immediately spit out, preferably in someone’s unsuspecting face. Why would anyone serve that kind of swill?

But since discovering cheese, a whole world of delicious foods opened up to me, and I became an unexpected foodie. My life (and waistline) has never been the same.

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An Affair (with Cheese) to Remember — 35 Comments

  1. I’m always amazed by how much we have in common. (you’d think I’d stop being shocked by now) But yes, as a child, I loaded my plate with crackers, and skipped over the nasty cheese. I didn’t get the awesome experience of French cheese to turn my taste buds (sooo jealous!) but turned they were in my adulthood.

    Also, I’d never heard of a cheese course before. Brilliant.
    Ericamos recently posted…Cruisin’ CousinsMy Profile

  2. I was also a picky eater as a kid, ok, I’m still picky in a way, but I don’t think I ever cared too much about cheese until my mother made a new recipe for au gratin potatoes with Gruyère instead of whatever she had used in the past. Heaven. I eat entirely way too much of it when I make it now. Good thing it’s expensive or I’d have it much more often than is good for me.
    Ellen recently posted…Kiss OffMy Profile

  3. Yes food pallets do change as we get older – I disliked mushrooms as a kid – then they were OK if they were cooked – now raw too

  4. I love this because I love cheese, and at the moment I’ve given it up (waistline issues) and have LOVED living vicariously through your post.

    And that ‘smile and eat the food your foreign host has given you’ thing? That’s how I ended up with a curried baby octopus staring at me from the end of my fork. With all heads around the table watching me – what else could be done? I ate that sucker up XD
    Considerer recently posted…7 Quick Takes #32 x FTSF Nearly there!My Profile

  5. I love this so much! My favorite parts were the urine-scented brussel sprouts and proscuitto- the culinary gift from God himself! So funny! And what a great story- I can’t believe you discovered you loved cheese in France! (I almost started my “turning point” post with …when I learned you could order extra candy on your Blizzard at Dairy Queen!)
    Thanks for linking up with us!
    Stephanie @ Mommy, for real. recently posted…Mommy’s LawMy Profile

  6. I love cheese too, but probably not as much as a friend from book club who, when she got engaged, her husband put her ring in a block of cheese for her to discover while she was biting into it. No kidding! And they love cheese so much, that they both quit their jobs as lawyers and are now making cheese in Bodega Bay.
    catherine gacad recently posted…Blurbs for the BrainMy Profile

  7. YES! Finally someone giving food the attention it deserves. What a KICK ASS turning point! I love it. My life revolves around food (or at least it does to some degree now that…) and I’ve had a few foods like that, that I wouldn’t touch, including cheese, and fortunately or unfortunately as I grow older the list of what I will tolerate or enjoy only grows longer. Great post, Natalie.
    Katia recently posted…And Then There Were ThreeMy Profile

  8. I should use your mom’s rule on my husband. He is so picky.

    And how could you not like cheese? And jelly? (But not together).

    Do you know how great cubes of cheese are when they’re dipped in different kinds of dip? It’s heaven. Pure heaven.

    I love that you cried on the way back from France. LOVE IT! I feel the same way about cheese.
    Lisa Newlin recently posted…Lisa Newlin’s Secrets to a Happy MarriageMy Profile

  9. Oh yes, I’m with you there on the low quality coffee….I’ll rather have water or nothing, thanks. I could never give up cheese. In fact, we have feta with just about every meal, and regularly stock up on goat’s cheese, cheddar and mozzarella. I didn’t like brie cheese or any of those other weird kinds before, but I’m slowly beginning to expand my cheese palate too!
    Melanie Chisnall recently posted…Creamy Banana Pudding: My Latest Healthy Snack AddictionMy Profile

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