Let It Brie
But First, Cheese
by Libby Ellis
It was all so innocent and well- intentioned: the childhood comfort of a grilled cheese on white, then whole wheat; the northern-Illinois nachos layered with melted bricks of Velveeta and canned black olives, and the one-inch architectural building blocks of my teenage vegetarian diet—party cubes of grocery store cheddar and jack.
Tides rise and fall and rise, wheels of cheese age and, lo, a dairy allergy is diagnosed. (Cue the dramatic score.)
Adios, my Manchego-lover. Hello, vegan chastity and its faux cheeses of soy and nut. Cheesy-wonderless years pass filled with albino pizzas, cashew nut lasagnes, shredded almond cheese enchiladas, soy cheese tortellini, pistachio-encrusted nut cheese balls. Is there no dairy-free dignity? In my dreams I am eating hot cheesy pizza. Real cheese.
And then, in the middlemarch of my vegan-fermented innocence on a mid-winter’s Vineyard night (because that’s when stories of disciplined deprivation turn from falls of grace to swooning indulgence), I see him: full- bodied, not shy, smelling of tobacco and musk. In a word, flinty.
I drink him in, this Chilean Malbec, who speaks to me with such intimacy about the fiery depths of freedom and all the delicacies of the palette, and a longing for creamery. Lost picnics at Camembert, skinny dips beneath the Swiss fondue moon, running barefoot through the Valley of Eidolon, sunbathing on the soft-pillowed balls of mozzarella. Sans cracker, in the nude. Adventure spreading before us like smooth legs of a journey on a road paved of Gouda. And, I crumble, like bleu cheese. Show me the whey. Olé!
I drink in more, because I cannot not, and all that’s left between us is the eighth wonder: my CheeseGlobe world. And we press on, together, ripening like lovers do. In the comfort of Chevre—it’s as if I’d never left— we climb Mont Blanc where we dip and dive in ponds of warm Brie, and roll in the deep of Adelost, and bolder the promise of Prufrock, and cross- pollinate mon petite Anejo Enchilado and my sweet baby Swiss, and tip-silly wander the craggy, pungent shores
of Stilton to clear our heads and, you may think us Morbier, we dance in the ash as requiem to Bowie. Cheesepuffs gather overhead, but no matter, we have Asiago-go-go onboard and I am now bullfighter to his bull, waving the red cocktail napkin of temptation. Ándele!
We are one until the last sip and sup before dessert and then, like spilled magic, our moment passes and it’s a toll call from Tillamook, “Ahoy, Port Salut!” And I’m back to the silver-trayed, artisanal-slated, hand- chalked farm-to-fête Vineyard, where I make way to bagged almond cheese in the refrigerated cases of Cronig’s. But in my lactose heart, I think of what has been and how we almost had our cheesecake and ate it, too!