Just home from corner grocery store, my sister immediately dug out a wedge and a round of soft French cheese to set them on the window ledge.
In Vienna for Christmastime, the sun had remained submerged in clouds for a week; dreary, especially for Zambian-Albertans. Now, perhaps coaxed out of the clouds by the cheese on the window ledge, the sun broke through the dreariness and lit up my sister’s apartment. Cheerfully, we took the groceries from out their cloth bags and shuffled them away into the fridge, pantry, or cupboard. The water crackers we left on the counter for later that afternoon.
It’s funny, our family grew up for years on nondescript block cheddar cheese, sawed off in slices or grated onto broccoli and cauliflower or made into a sauce for macaroni. That was cheese for us, bright orange and generic. World cheeses did not exist outside of this singular monolithic Cheese.
That afternoon, after ducking back out to find un bouteille de vin rouge at the same small grocery, we assembled around the table. The cheeses, now soft and pungent, were unwrapped and settled onto the middle of a cutting board. The crackers we arranged, the wine was poured, and a festive “Proscht!” was exchanged between each of us. We scooped at the slouching camembert and dug into the melting brie. Spread onto crackers or downed on its own, either way with wine, the four of us smiled, laughed, and relaxed into pure enjoyment.
Cheese in this way is more than an accoutrement to dinner, or an extra flavor to a dish. It is the centerpiece, the substance and focus of the meal.
A round and a wedge were too much for the four of us, and as we ate through halfway the cheese took on a sharp and bitter taste. Our mouths were worn out, taste buds overworked. A single extra bite would have ruined all the enjoyment I had had up to that point. We pushed the cheeses away from us and back into their wrappings. My sister wanted to return them to the ledge, but I didn’t want to even smell them any longer. I suggested the fridge. It was her place, here fridge, her ledge, and she won out.
I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to distract myself from the scent of soupy camembert and sweaty brie, surreptitiously opening each kitchen window a crack and turning to the range fume hood on to its lowest setting. My sister finally took mercy on me and moved the cheese into the fridge before suggesting we go outside for a postprandial walk.