A Thousand Ways
to Say Cheese
by A.M. Broadous
I had a problem.
There are chocolate connoisseurs and horror junkies. Skydivers. Nail-biting compatriots.
But few would ever experience the highs of colby jack.
One day, cheese will find me in the stucco walls of Palermo’s finest bistro. Then, to Normandy, to the pasteurized loafs of Limburg, and finally, to the great Swiss cheese ball in the sky, where I’ll dine on a platter with the lunar man himself. Even sooner than that, though, I fear I may be sitting in the corner of a darkened room, muttering “pepper jack” and gently rocking in the fetal position.
As a boy, I wanted cheese on everything from toast to chocolate cake. At Olive Garden, I’d nod to the waiter hovering his crisp sleeves above my dish. He’d grind that block of Parmigiano-Reggiano—you have to say it like you mean it—down to the rind and toss it away with an impatient smile.
“Do you want some pasta with that?” my mother would ask.
“Only if there’s cheese in it,” I’d say.
I’d usually unwrap the rich and tangy gold from plastic packages that read sharp or extra sharp. Mild was always too mild. Medium was never medium. Sharp cheeses like cheddar and Gruyere found their way in a steaming bowl of mac and cheese, as did smoked Gouda—along with the zest of scorched applewood. When I discovered blue cheese, it became my savior after a hard day of being a kid. When I discovered blue cheese dressing, it became my holy water.
On a separate occasion, I found myself at a sandwich shop in Cedar City, Utah. I ordered the “crunchy Italian salad” but took a second look at the description with panic:
Mixed greens topped with carrots, a mix of Terra Stix, rice noodles, almonds, and topped with Italian dressing.
Sweat. Chills. Shaking. Agony.
But these were replaced momentarily with relief as I skimmed over the soothing words:
All meals come with a cheesy dinner roll.
Posing for photos was always difficult. Everyone would say the word, but I would be thinking of it long after the picture was taken. My mind would wander to chevre, brie, and Romano over a bed of rigatoni. Mascarpone in a coffee-infused cheesecake. Camembert le Chatelain. Nachos covered with cotija and queso. Mozzarella in thick sticks. Asiago. Feta. I’d dream of opening the wax of Babybel’s white cheddar like Easter eggs.
Oftentimes, it wasn’t the word cheese that did it. It would be the oddest ones triggering my craving—words like respond, lie, and please. The rhyme was likely the culprit in that last one. But sometimes it wasn’t even a word, more like a letter. A and E were notorious. So was G. They’d bring me face-to-face with creamy havarti, Monterey Jack, Roquefort, and ones that sound like crime families: Castigliano and Crescenza.
1,800 ways to say cheese.
I often wonder if there’s a place for people like me. Cheesaholics Anonymous? I imagine my friend Logan would find me in a closet, cheese wrappers surrounding me, and we would finally address this crippling issue of mine.
ME: (Stuffing wrappers into my pocket) I can explain.
LOGAN: (Sighing) American or manchego?
ME: (Lip quivering) Neither. Provolone. And I was doing so well.
LOGAN: (Hoisting me to my feet) Enough is enough.
LOGAN: We’re getting you to CA.
At the meeting, I’d sit in a circle among bowed heads and silence. By slow degrees, I’d raise my own head, stifle a sob or two, and choke out, “I’m Drew.” I’d hesitate a moment like they all do. “And I’m a Cheesaholic.”
“Hi, Drew,” the paneer abusers would say in unison.
I’d then retreat to my shell and listen to everyone else recite their fettuccine fiascos.
It would all remind me of a very dear childhood friend who spends his 11 AMs with Jim Beam and Ron Botran, his 4 o’clocks with Oxy and Pearl, and his midnights screaming because he knows he has to see them again the next day. The week after, he’ll rendezvous with Brown Sugar, Wack, and Tweak. He’ll break up with Mary Jane. He’ll take her back again.
Like me, he’ll come to realize they’re just names.
A thousand ways to say the same thing.