I’ve been thinking a lot lately about cheese. First, because it is clearly a major food group all on its own. Second, because as I get older I find myself focusing more and more on healthly eating habits and realizing that perhaps the amount of cheese I routinely consume isn’t the best idea. And third, because this one food figured pretty prominantly at a pivotal time in my life.
Let me be clear: I love cheese. I’ve always loved cheese. I add cheese to everything and cheese adds joy to my culinary life. Melting triple-cream brie drizzled with honey and surrounded by ripe figs. Stinky, crumbling blue cheese over a bed of sweet pears and peppery arugula. Salty feta tossed with sweet cucumber and red onions. Cheese, in its many forms, has the ability to turn a normal meal into an adventure for the senses. And in my case, cheese also had the ability to influence where in the world I would live, work and have my first child.
I moved to London when I was thirty-three. My husband’s job was the springboard and I was happy to take the leap. What I wasn’t happy about was that we didn’t know where in that great city of London we would make our home. We took two trips across the pond to figure this out. On the first expedition we explored London from Twickenham to Greenwich and everything in between. On our second journey we discovered the richness of different neighborhoods: Notting Hill, with its pastel buildings and Saturday markets; Hampstead, with its gastro pubs and that gorgeous heath; and Richmond, with its deer-filled Richmond Park and elegant townhouses on the Thames. I was definitely getting to know London, but it wasn’t yet starting to feel like it could be home. Then I saw the cheese shop.
We were meandering up Richmond Hill on the last day of our visit. It was cloudy and cold and we still hadn’t made a decision on where to set up house for the next few years. My eyes moved along the line of shops to my left as we walked. There was a café, a bridal store, an art gallery. An Indian restaurant and a bike shop. And then, there it was, in the broad expanse of a large bay window: Cheese – so much cheese. Hard cheese and soft cheese and smoked cheese and blue cheese. Cheese in the rind and out. Accoutrements for cheese, fresh-baked baguette and crackers and jellies. It was Teddington Cheese Shop and I was done. I looked at my husband and he looked at me. I said, “They have a cheese shop. The kind of cheese shop I dream of.” He said, “I know.” And that was that. Within the month we found a two-bedroom flat at the top of Richmond Hill, mere minutes from that fabulous shop.
We spent the next two years making a weekly walk down Hill Rise from our flat to visit Teddington Cheese. We asked questions and tried samples. We were courageous in our cheese adventures. I loved the way those myriad cheeses helped make everything better, both the foods they were paired with as well as all the crazy feelings our new life overseas generated. Homesick? Bring on that softened brie and pair it with dark chocolate. Mind spinning over the tube map? A little nutty Comte did the trick. We always had something cheesy and wonderful in our kitchen.
When I became pregnant, the shop’s cheesemongers educated us on the cheeses that were safe for mother and baby and made sure I kept eating that delicious and decadent treat throughout my pregnancy. And when my son was born, one of our first outings was to walk him down Hill Rise in his blue and white pram for our weekly cheese shop visit. It’s so funny to look back and realize that one of the reasons we ended up in Richmond, creating a home, making new friends, exploring new jobs and having our first child, was because of a long walk up a quiet hill to a shop filled with cheese.
In the end, I may cut back slightly on my cheese consumption. But, who’s kidding? Cut it out completely? Never gonna happen.
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