Say cheese even if you can't smile

By the time you polish off the cheese, you know the divide isn't as cut and dried as you imagined.



By Abhishek Sengupta (Monday Musings)

Published: Sun 18 Aug 2019, 7:03 PM

Last updated: Sun 18 Aug 2019, 9:12 PM

You would have to be an absolute fusspot to have sat through last week and not celebrated. So much happened for so many of us - mainstream football (read English Premier League) and Sacred Games, India's GoT - both returned to TV screens, a host of countries including Indonesia and nuclear neighbours India and Pakistan turned a year older and Woodstock, the cult music festival that became the very symbol of the swinging sixties' idea of freedom fueled by sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, turned 50. But I would have to admit none of those headlines made me twitch as much as my late realisation of, and excuse me for bringing this up, the existence of the big cheese divide did.
Yes, you read that right - the great cheese divide that goes a bit like the class divide as we know it but one that brings out the fissures with much more finesse and yet more subtly. Something I only learnt the other day thanks to a senior colleague's largesse - a wedge of matured Gouda. Now as is the custom, all that comes around, goes around in our pretty little newsroom - from banana chips to baklavas and everything in between that can be eaten and is brought back by a returning holidaymaker. The 500g-smoked old cheese was no exception and so began yet another circumnavigation of the newsroom, only to split the world in factions this time.
Now we have always been a divided bunch (and that happens everywhere you see!).
Some of us swear by Chelsea, some by Manchester City and some like me by the good old Arsenal. Then there are the staunch supporters of the regimes in India and Pakistan and elsewhere and there are those who are quite opposed to those seats of power- the cogs of the anti-establishment machinery, if you like. But we have still gotten along well all this while until of course the yellow cheese came up, excuse my pun, to no Gouda.
The division in the newsroom was instant and for all to see just like a cell in the body undergoes mitosis and meiosis - one half (the lion share really!) drifting away looking down in disbelief on the nattily cut cubes with disdain and intrigue, shocked and in awe. By the time you have finished savouring a few cubes of the cheese and its rind, the whiff and the granules, you realise the newsroom has already been compartmentalised into classes - one that loathed the smell, one that abhorred the way it looked and another - cheese virgins if you like - that just brushed past the tray giving it a queer look and a gleeful smirk as if to deride the handful of us and our choice to help ourselves to all of that Dutch delight.
By the time you polish off the cheese, you know the divide isn't as cut and dried as you imagined. There are some who like cheese but only the so-called processed cheddar with a deep yellow tinge sans its smell and maturity the likes of Amul, President and Kraft have made a meal of for decades now. And then there are some who only go as far as Paneer, the soft, white cottage cheese whose marauding empire has now colonised India's growing lacto-vegetarians and their cuisine for years. And of course there's that lot too - the one that can't absolutely stand the sight of a cheese just like a vampire's love for garlic.
What pains me though is the fact that it's the cheese that's getting the stick when it should get all the carrots, olives and maple syrup. After all cheese is a true global delicacy that's connected people and tribes for centuries. Today, over a thousand types are produced across the globe - commercially and otherwise - each with a distinct style, texture and flavor. The milk in some pasteurised, some with butterfat, bacteria and mold and some processed, preserved and aged. Herbs, spices, or wood smoke make some cheeses more equal than others and then condiments like black pepper, pesto, garlic, chives or cranberries make certain cheeses more bearable for some, more delectable for others.
And then at the end of the day, we are all united or divided by a certain cheese - an Edam, a Brie, a Danish Bleu, a Ricotta or a Gruyere. Ask an Englishman and he will say Stilton's the best they have got, a Frenchman will tell you its Bieu de Gex that's the most exotic while the Dutch will swear by the Gouda just like how the Italians hail their Parmesan.
So, what's your big cheese?
-abhishek@khaleejtimes.com


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