Sunday, March 29, 2015

`Transform Me to a Piece of Cheese'

The aproned clerk removed the towel from the cutting board and revealed six wedges of cheese. They looked innocent enough, and only one was varicosed with blue. My youngest son is a budding trencherman but his tastes in cheese are conventional. No, not Velveeta, but grocery cheddar and Swiss define the boundaries of his palate. He is twelve, and old enough for his father to introduce him to some of the world’s still-legal pleasures.

My boss had recommended Houston Dairymaids, the city’s only cheese shop, located in a mostly Mexican neighborhood. Eighty percent of their business is dealing wholesale to restaurants, the clerk informed me, but their retail outlet is designed to inspire loyalty among Houston’s caseophiles. They greet customers with an orientation session, consisting of six cheeses and a brief lecture on each. I immediately had my eye on the Stilton, a product of Vermont, but David said no dice. We settled on two raw-milk cheeses: Granbury Gold, a Texas creation from cow’s milk, and a faultless San Andreas of sheep’s milk, made in California. We sampled olives and various exotic and expensive crackers (I should have brought Tupperware), passed on the wine, and added two pretzel buns to the take. 

G.K. Chesterton was wrong when he declared: “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” The Canadian furniture-maker James McIntyre (1827-1906) built a poetic career based on the celebration of coagulated milk protein. Among his effusions is “Ode on the Mammoth Cheese Weighing over 7,000 Pounds.” Less circumscribed in subject matter than McIntyre was Shakespeare. The word shows up thirteen times in the plays, often modified by “toasted.” Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor gets one of the best: “Heavens defend me from that Welsh fairy, lest he / transform me to a piece of cheese.”


sunt_lacrimae_rerum said...

Thank you for a great entry! I have always loved the sweet / shocking absurdity when King Lear says:
look, a mouse! Peace, peace; this piece of toasted
cheese will do 't. There's my gauntlet; I'll prove
it on a giant. Bring up the brown bills. O, well
flown, bird! i' the clout, i' the clout: hewgh!
Give the word."

And Edgar responds "Sweet marjoram" and Lear accepts that as the secret password.

Donald Hall has also written on cheese.

BJ said...

Wow, that's my neighborhood; thanks for alerting me to this hitherto-unknown-to-me retail side