Cheese lovers unite!

Prairie Wool

Helen Row Toews

What are your innermost thoughts on cheese? Like it? Love it? Can’t stand the stuff? Do you try all sorts: blue Stilton and Roquefort, soft Brie and Camembert, or hard Parmesan and Pecorino? Possibly you never stray from the familiarity of cheddar or mozzarella, or perhaps a flat, waxy slice is to your taste; one you can rip from its cellophane coating and plaster onto your sandwich with ease.

If all that’s too fussy, maybe you’d rather just spoon some good ole “processed cheese product” straight from the jar and into your slavering mouth. Talk about instant gratification. You don’t even have to chew! It doesn’t actually contain cheese, but you can’t have everything.

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When I was a kid, visiting at my friend Cyndi’s house was a treat for many reasons. One of them was snack time. Her mom would make the best: a slice of bread was spread with the aforementioned cheese product, and then sprinkled with sizzling bacon and diced onions before being toasted under the grill. Yum! For a girl who subsisted on a strict meat and potato regimen, that was heavenly.

I’ve always loved cheese and can often be found hovering around the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Unfortunately, we in Canada don’t have nearly the variety and choice that can be found in the UK or France. By golly, they have CHEESE.

Whenever I’m abroad, I make a point of visiting a grocery store to stock up, and there are always other fascinating things to see. Even something as innocuous as a potato chip can have interesting flavours in another country, such as Pork Sausage and English Mustard or Haggis and Cracked Black Pepper, but I digress.

I bring plenty of cheese home, too, especially from the UK. I may feel vaguely illegal as I pass through security with five pounds of Wensleydale hanging from my back, but who could resist lugging cheeses home with such fetching names as: Curworthy, Ticklemore, Cornish Yarg or Stinking Bishop?

One day I want to be in England for the International Cheese Awards at Nantwich. This annual show and competition has been held since 1897 and is the largest in the world. Visitors (me), can expect to sample more than 4600 varieties. Plus, there are displays of cattle, horses, sheep, poultry, pigeons and dogs. Wait. Pigeons?

There’s been only one unpleasant incident to mar this otherwise perfect love. When my family and I were in Paris, France one summer, we decided to visit a proper cheese shop. I hope there are no French people listening but — what a smell!

Then, there were only two types we recognized and the rest were covered in — stuff. I think parsley was pressed into one flat disc, but others looked like they were covered with tree leaves, pine bark, thick, fuzzy mold or just plain old dirt.

Turns out the dirt was actually ash and the French eat it that way, but everything we bought was too stinky for us. Todd, my stepson, remarked that he wasn’t subjecting himself to any of it since, “It looks like something that should be vacuumed up from under the sofa, not eaten!” 

I guess some cheeses are an acquired taste, but I love ‘em all. You?

Why not give a smile this Christmas? Helen’s newly released books of entertaining anecdotes are available on Amazon as Prairie Wool Books, or contact her through myprairiewool.com

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