We recently had a small gathering to watch the Wallace and Gromit short films and eat cheese. Wallace is the animated character known for his love of Wensleydale and gorgonzola. “Cheese, Gromit!” he says to his dog, “We’ll go somewhere, where there’s cheese!” They build a spaceship and fly to the moon for a picnic.
The menu for our gathering was completely cheese-based. We had stilton, camembert, minted cream cheese, and something that smelled like dirty socks. There was a green salad with feta and a pan of baked macaroni and cheese. And for dessert, no-bake strawberry cheesecake tart.
As far as I’m concerned, there are two categories of cheese: The Good Stuff, and rat cheese. Not that I don’t love rat cheese! It’s a name we picked up from our friend Norm, who said that where he grew up in Texas, plain old yellow cheese was actually labeled that way.
Rat cheese can be colby, cheddar, or co-jack. We even call Monterey Jack or Mozzarella rat cheese. It’s the cheese you buy at the grocery store in large packages and use as an ingredient in macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches (also known as cheese dreams), and cheese-and-peas salad.
When I had my own refrigerator and freezer, I’d buy rat cheese in 3-pound blocks. A pound or so would get whacked off, carefully wrapped, and kept in the fridge. The challenge was stretching plastic wrap around the cheese so that no air could get in and allow mold.
The remaining pounds were grated, spread on cookie sheets, and placed in the freezer for a couple of hours. When it was frozen, we’d break it up (easy to do if you spread it out before freezing) and transfer it to large zip-lock bags. When a recipe called for a bit of cheese, we could grab a handful out of the freezer.
But living on a boat, or living without refrigeration, my cheese habits changed. Now I couldn’t keep pounds of cheese from molding, I had to buy little 8-oz packages. The price per pound difference gave me sticker shock.
As long as I was going to spend that much money on cheese and get only a small amount, why buy rat cheese? Why not buy The Good Stuff?
The Good Stuff is the kind of cheese that’s sold in wheels, not rectangles. One advantage to such cheese is that it can be rolled, as they do every year in a contest in Gloucestershire, England. Those who leave the event with broken bones and spinal injuries, however, may not consider that such an advantage. Especially since first prize is only a wheel of cheese that’s been bounced down a steep hill with hundreds of people rolling after it.
Rather than chase my gourmet cheese, I buy it, in small amounts. No longer do I buy 48 ounces of rat cheese, now I buy 4 ounces of gorgonzola. A small wedge of camembert can satiate my cheese needs for the week. I pick up small quantities of tangy feta, sweet gjetost, and creamy brie. My trusty Micro-Plane grater turns asiago into fluffy, artful shavings, and 2 ounces can last over a month.
Turning from the computer and looking into the fridge, I note that the smelly sweat sock cheese is gone, as is the goat cheese we used to stuff chicken breasts. There’s a bit of camembert left, a small bag of grated rat cheese, and a new chunk of parmesan.
What shall we do if we run out?
No problem: We’re just down the street from the Fremont Rocket. We’ll fly to the moon for some more!