Harley Hay photo byline

Harley Hay: In praise of fermented curd

So you’re sitting around with the guys watching the hockey game and having some bevvies when insidiously, a disagreeable odour begins to seep around the room like a fog of poison gas. And inevitably, someone fake-chokes dramatically and says accusingly, “All right, who cut the cheese?”

When something is hokey or corny or lame we say it’s “cheesy.” A big shot is the “Big Cheese,” and when we want someone to smile for the camera, we say what? We say: “Say Cheese!”

To be annoyed is to be “cheesed off;” when gangsters want your money they say, “Give me the cheddar” (or more accurately: “Gimme da chedda!”). If somebody is acting like a goof, she’s a “cheeseball.” The British, when they want to emphasize that two things are very different from each other they say, William and Harry are like “chalk and cheese.” I love that one.

I could go on, and often do, but my point, if I in fact have one, is that if we didn’t have cheese we wouldn’t have one of the greatest comedy sketches ever created. I’m referring, of course, to Monty Python’s famous “Dead Parrot” sketch.

Just kidding – that’s the second best comedy skit – the “Cheese Shop” sketch takes the cheddar. For those of you poor wayward souls like my friend Grant who actually claims to never have heard this classic bit of famous foolishness, let me just say that in the gloriously British TV skit, a cheese-loving man enters a cheese shop that doesn’t really have any cheese at all. After listing nearly all of the 1,800 types of cheese in the world (including “Czechoslovakian Sheep’s Milk Cheese” and “Venezuelan Beaver Cheese”) and getting 1,800 versions of “no” in response (including, “Sorry, the cat ate it”) – well, it’s five minutes of pure Golden Cheese.

But even if you don’t like silly British humour, chances are, you like cheese as much as the next guy. Let’s brie honest, there’s nothing quite like a gouda chunk of cheese to make your day feta.

Personally though, I didn’t think much of cheese until I was, like a good gruyere, sufficiently aged. Even though my dad was a buttermaker at the creamery I don’t remember much cheese around our house except for this alien runny yellow substance that mom put on cooked cauliflower, resulting in perhaps one of my least favourable lifetime culinary experiences. Now, mom was a good cook, but I never understood how anyone as kind and caring as she could inflict on her very own beloved flesh and blood something as unspeakable as steamed cauliflower drenched in what I later was horrified to discover was actually hot, melted Cheese Whiz. Which as everybody knows has about as much real cheese in it as a jar of fetid swamp water. (I apologize if I’ve triggered your gag reflex, I’ve certainly triggered mine.)

I finally discovered the joy of cheese from the family of the Better Half when she was still the GF (Girl Friend). Her dad and his parents arrived in Canada just after the war, coming from France and bringing the love of what Monty Python calls “fermented curd” with them. And various delicious types of “cheesy comestibles” were served at every meal I attended at their house as the BF. Just another thing to be thankful for from that family although eventually stealing away with one of their daughters ranks even higher than cheese.

But all this cheesy talk has got me a little peckish. I just swiss I had the time to sit on my asiago and enjoy a little French cuisine. To brie or not to brie – that’s the real question.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. Send him a column idea at harleyhay1@hotmail.com.