When I was contemplating grad school, I decided that my writing clips just weren’t good enough to include with my applications. So I put myself on a 10-day fast—a popular detox regimen at the time—so I could write about the experience through immersive journalism. (I know, a fad detox isn’t exactly cutting-edge narrative, but I knew that my skepticism, my love of food, and outlasting my older brother in the program would make for a good story.)
Days one and two were rough. By day three, I was feeling surprisingly better. By day six, I knew I could make it through, but I started fantasizing about food and getting my food fix in other ways. I started to copy recipes from magazines onto index cards, just to feel close to food. I dreamed about food every time I drove by a grocery store, and I distinctly remember passing a church thinking, “A Communion wafer would taste pretty darn good right now.” But the worst of it came around day eight, when my husband headed to the kitchen, pulled out a sleeve of crackers, and proceeded to melt Muenster over them. It’s one of my favorite snacks, cheese and crackers (the meltier, the better), and I was appalled at his lack of empathy. When I smelled that glorious melted cheese, I actually stuffed my face into a pillow and cried.
Cheese is my all-around favorite food—I once even asked for a wheel for Christmas. (Sadly, I got slippers instead.) So the day Laura Downey ’87, owner of Fairfield Cheese Company, wrote to me to tell me a little bit about her career as a cheesemonger, I started dreaming of Cheese School, a semimonthly evening course in which she and her business partner would preside over lessons on artisanal and farmstead cheese from Europe and the United States. (Yes, the U.S. can compete with Europe in the cheese world—Cheese School Lesson No. 1.) And when Downey invited me to come to Fairfield, Conn., for her course on the Cheeses of France, well, I decided that the trip was definitely in the line of duty, and moreover that I had the best job in the world. Cheese School actually exists? Yes, please.
I thought I was pretty fantastic at eating cheese. After all, I do it all the time. A favorite dinner at home is fresh-baked bread, melted brie, and fruit. My husband and kids seem to think cheese is pretty great too, so they reinforce me in my cheese-mania. But it seems that in reality, I’ve been missing out. In a big way.
That Muenster I cried over? It came from the grocery- store deli counter, and it’s so mass-produced that the orange rim is actually painted on before it arrives at the store. (Mind-blowing Lesson No. 2 from Cheese School.) In Downey’s class, I tasted real Muenster cheese from Alsace, France. The taste was so much more complex and lovely than the store-bought slices I’ve been accustomed to putting on my ham sandwiches.
Mind you, this was not an ordinary new-food revelation. No, I would venture to say it was more like the Road to Damascus. As the scales fell from my eyes, a whole new cheese world opened up for me. And let me just add, it’s a dangerous path. After eating Roquefort in Cheese School— where the blue is so blue, you can actually see crystals—I’ll never be the same.
Don’t get me wrong. I can’t exactly buy artisanal cheese all the time—not at the rate that I down the stuff. I have kids to put through school, after all. But I dream of that Roquefort now when I crumble blue cheese from the specialty counter at Kroger on my salad every day.
And had my husband melted that Petit Muenster from Fairfield Cheese Company over his crackers that evening at home? Well, even with only two days to go, there’s no way I would have survived that fast.