“The writer who never talks about eating, about appetite, hunger, food, about cooks and meals, arouses my suspicion, as though some vital element were missing in him.”
With Aldo Buzzi’s admonition from The Perfect Egg and Other Stories in mind, we left Portland and drove 60 miles west to Tillamook, Ore., home of the Tillamook County Cheese Factory. Just as I love reading detailed descriptions of processes – culinary, medical, manufacturing, artistic – so do I enjoy witnessing the same, especially in the company of a good guide. Factory tours at Tillamook are self-guided but the walls are covered with intelligently concise explanations of what’s go on along the assembly line below the gallery where we stood. There’s something deeply satisfying about watching the creation of a product (except for the start, the cow) you already use, and also the smooth operation of a beautifully engineered factory.
We left with an 18-ounce wedge of Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar, a 16-ounce brick of Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese and two bags of Cheddar Cheese Curds, some of which remain unconsumed. We headed north and followed the Pacific shoreline for more than an hour, frequently passing two road signs I never saw while living in the Midwest – “Elk” and “Tsunami Hazard Area.”
All the while rain fell and a harsh wind blew off the Pacific. We stopped at a winningly named beach, Hug Point, ran to the water’s edge and stayed long enough to collect some stones. The one I found is shaped like an oversized peanut, and now it’s on my desk. Further to the north we stopped at an overlook at Cannon Beach. A marker said the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse stands on a rock just offshore but the rain, mist and sea spray obscured it. Today the lighthouse, built in 1881, is a privately owned columbarium.
Back home I grilled hamburgers topped with Tillamook cheddar. We ate well during our brief holiday in Oregon – in two delis, in a pan-Asian noodle shop, in the dining room of our hotel which serves a generous buffet breakfast (included in the cost of the room). In Portland every taquería, a dining habit we acquired in Houston, was closed – our only culinary disappointment. Buzzi writes of the people in Italy who would sniff at such déclassé places, and in the process delivers a Whitman-like celebration of life in a democracy:
“These are the same people who think that roast-chestnut sellers, hot-dog pedlars and market stalls are unsightly, while in fact they turn any anonymous site in the city into an attractive, human, therapeutic place for the usual neuroses. You stallholders (male and female), you landlords of old osterie [humble Italian taverns or restaurants] that have not been `done up’ with bowling alleys, you carpenters’ shops, you knife-grinders, umbrella sellers, chair caners, watermelon sellers, purveyors of chestnut cake, lupins, cooked pears, you who still live down by the railings, stuck between the privy and the trash cans, or out in Grottsville, should be entitled to the gratitude of your fellow-citizens.”