Who cut the cheese?

An ash-covered Tropeiro cheese from Minas Gerais, after suffering an unhappy week in shipping.

A cheese arrived by mail yesterday. It had spent a week in transit due to virus-related transportation delays. It was gray and moldy and wrinkled, and the strong cheesy smell of it easily escaped the thick layers of plastic wrap and cardboard which secured it, growing stronger as I cut them away.

Following cheesecare instructions I gently scraped away the white patches of mold with a bread knife. Then, not following cheesecare instructions, but personal experience, I put it on a plate in the fridge with a ventilated cover over it. Last time we had one of these cheeses we kept it in the cheese cage, but the temperatures here are quite warm and it sweated oil from the cut side. The texture was less than appealing with it being warm and oily like that. So this one will stay chilled.

I remembered a childhood expression while cutting this cheese. “Who cut the cheese??” was giggled on the schoolbus if someone farted, or when we passed a farm and a waft of manure-scented air came in. But I remember clearly that until high school I only ate Kraft American Cheese, the kind that came in a brick in a cardboard box. It had no smell. I don’t remember ever encountering a cheese with a cheesy smell in childhood. So the reference in the reaction to stinkiness was rote, learned from some generation who had known farmhouse cheese, perhaps?

When our high school French teacher decided to have a French Culture Day in class, she brought in brie cheese, a baguette, and perhaps some other things I have forgotten. She played a famous song on a tape recorder and sang along with it, embarrassing us. She was actually French and I think we all found her a bit intriguing and startling, though she was well-liked. Anyway, I remember everyone in class trying the cheese and most being rather horrified by the strange bitter taste, fungus-covered exterior, and rank smell. After high school I think I moved up to eating cheddar, but not much else. It took me decades more to attempt gorgonzola and other strong or moldy cheeses.

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