Sunday, October 28, 2018

A Cheesy Story

Long ago and far away, those being relative things, I was a young college student working in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. It was the summer I turned nineteen and I was off to work for a couple that I had never met, although they were old family friends, doing whatever needed to be done for them. You who have followed this blog for a while have heard about some (not all) of the fascinating people I got to meet working for the McKennas for those three summers. I was also introduced to some other parts of their cultural world that I had not been exposed to in my young life, but that made an indelible impression. One was cribbage and another was Herkimer County cheddar cheese. It is the latter I wish to tell you about.

Map of New York highlighting Herkimer County 


 It was aged and sharp and I had never tasted anything like it. A white cheddar in a world of Kraft slices was something a little new to me. Sure, my European father had little stashes of exotic cheeses which I thought, for the most part, smelled too bad to eat. The exception being Norwegian goat cheese, or brunost, in which I did get to partake. I love it to this day and can even get it in this tiny town.

 Ski Queen Gjetost Original Goat Cheese, (8.8 oz), Size: One size, Ivory  

Image result for brunost
After a long day being the “boy” around camp (Adirondack cabins are referred to as “camps”) we would often have a few hors d’oeuvres and a drink before dinner. We were civilized even in our buffalo plaid. Several times a week we would have this delicious treat along with bourbon, sherry, or beer (His, Hers, mine) while we discussed the events of the world, the nation, or our own little spot on the planet. Anyway, I grew to love this taste treat by itself or with a few crackers. In addition to my room, board and $50 a week cash (all stashed for tuition), this cheese made me feel like life couldn’t get much better. 

When it was time to return to school for my sophomore year I knew I would miss this sophisticated taste treat. I decided that I had the ability and money to order a whole cheese to have, to savor, and share with my friends until it was gone.  Five pounds of cheese would be my treasure and souvenir of my first whole summer away from home.

 It arrived about a week after I got to school. Big and round and covered in black wax, it was a sight to behold. The only knife I had was a hunting knife so that had to serve my needs. I had never cut into a five-pound cheese before and I probably even then didn’t realize just how much cheese five pounds is. Let me tell you from experience that it is more cheddar than you would be able to eat in a week unless you were into some kind of self-punishment. Not to say I don’t love the stuff because I still do. I do, but too much of anything, no matter how enjoyable, might not be so much fun after all. 

Over the next few weeks I would have a cheese and crackers snack any time I wanted to or to remember what a great summer I had. There was plenty for all, so I always tried to share. After a few weeks of sharing and eating I had only gone through a wedge that was maybe a pound. My consumption slowed as the school year got more intense and eventually I started to forget about it. It was an old dorm and there really wasn’t any good, safe place to store my still massive cheese.  I would remember now and then to eat some after I cut the mold off of it, but the times lengthened and the mold thickened. Mold can be a good thing when it comes to cheese, but in this case not so much. 

 Image of moldy cheese
I finally made the big decision sometime during the winter. It was time to dump the holy cheese. It broke my heart, in a way, but by then I was pretty sick of it. By the next summer back at camp I was ready to eat it once again, but sparingly from that moment on.


  1. good cheese IS a treat; kraft sucks. - this one from NY state is dee-lish.

  2. Jono--Your cheese story made me chuckle. I hope you're jotting down little memoir vignettes--like this one--for your family. You know, when we get to be a certain age...

    By the way, a hunting knife vs. a deer hide is one thing, but a hunting knife vs. a big wheel of cheese? I imagine the cheese would win every time. ;)

  3. Ah, the days when we didn’t have to worry about the pounds or the heart. Fun story of young summers.

  4. Debra, Maybe passing through Wisconsin a week ago brought this on.

    anne marie, Thanks for the link! Most people don't realize that New York has a huge dairy industry.

    Sioux, Thanks for the idea. I guess that is something like what my father did for my brother and I in his autobiography. I will make an effort to do that. I just don't know who for.

    Linda, Yeah, I remember those days. It was great to be immortal. Or at least think we were.

  5. My dad had a friend in the cheese business, and every Christmas we'd get a wheel of cheddar cheese from Wisconsin. Don't know how big it was ... 2 lbs., 5 lbs., I dunno. But it took our family of six the entire month of January to go thru it -- and like you, there was usually still some to throw out b/c of the mold. But fond memories aside . . . it's a shame how much food we Americans throw away every day. So buy sparingly, and eat heartily!

  6. Kraft slices are not cheese. A plastic fascimile.
    I am a huge fan of 'real' cheese but have never bought a five pound block. Probably just as well.
    My German father often told the tale of the first time he found camenbert in Australia. He leapt apon it and the shopkeeper did his best to discourage him. 'It is soft' 'It has probably gone off' I can't sell you that - you might get sick'. Father won the day, and thoroughly enjoyed himself.

  7. Tom, I was surprised how long cheese can last when bought in bulk, but I was at an age to start learning useful things like that. It was college and learning what cheap beer, wine, and booze tasted like was another part of that learning curve.

    Elephant's Child, You are right about Kraft slices being cheese. I think they are allowed to call it "cheese food" for advertising purposes. I am sure that cost a lot of lobbying dollars to get that past anyone with functioning taste buds.

  8. Too much of anything sure can be bad.

  9. The cheese had to be euthanized. Growing up, I thought cheese was Velveeta.


  10. Wisconsin might be calling you.
    Poor Poor Cheese.

    cheers, parsnip and badger

  11. Live and learn :D But what a delicious learning experience!

  12. magiceye, Everything in moderation is the key. Sometimes including moderation.

    Janie, Putting it out of its misery was the kindest thing to do. When did you grow up? :)

    angryparsnip, Like an unnamed Alaskan politician I can see Wisconsin from my deck. Well, on a very clear night, knowing just where to look, the faint blink of the lighthouse on the outer Apostle Island can be seen. Barely.

    jenny_o, The college years were all about learning. Some of it even in class! Adulting doesn't come too naturally to some of us.

  13. Born in 1959, so I'm a child of the '60s, but the '70s and the war in Vietnam had a huge impact on the kind of person I am.

  14. Cloudia, Thanks! I like to share life's lessons so others don't have to make the same mistakes.

    Janie, You sweet young thing! I am a little older, but those things had a strong effect on me, too.

  15. I love me some cheese..hard soft stinky yellow white sharp milk smokey..doesn't matter just love it.

  16. I love cheese. Any kind of cheese. And I imagine the Adirondack cheddar would taste divine! When I was a child growing up in England, my mother's uncle Frank lived in Canada and would send us a small wheel of Black Diamond Canadian cheese every Christmas. My dad ate most of it but I was allowed to have some with crackers.... mmmm so good.
    So sorry that you had to dump some of your precious cheese. I bet you're still regretting it!

  17. I absolutely love cheese - the thought of that sharp cheddar is enough to make my mouth water. And the thought of four pounds of delicious cheddar going moldy and being thrown away makes my eyes water - what a sad tale! But five pounds of cheese is a LOT of cheese...

  18. JACKIESUE, That cheddar opened up a world for me.

    Shammickite, The good thing is I can still order it online! I haven't had any of that particular stuff for many years, but the holidays are coming and I might get myself a little treat! Not 5 pounds, though.

    Diane, It was sooo good! At that age I could have eaten five pounds of pizza easily. Possibly in one or two sittings, but that was too much cheese. I have the ability to store that much now that I am all(well, mostly)grown up.

  19. I'm a big cheddar fan myself (Jack, Colby, Monterrey, Pepper Jack)...but I'm deathly allergic to mold. So I buy in small sizes. :)

  20. Silver Willow, Yeah, be careful of that! Congratulations on your retirement!

  21. You remind me of a friend - he brings back cheese curds whenever he travels to Wisconsin. They are somewhat unusual here in Florida.

    Of course, I know about cheese curds, having lived in New York for almost 20 years. Great story!

  22. A brand new rather posh grocery store has just opened in my small town. Not a store I could think of doing lots of shopping in, far too expensive, but oh, what a wonderful selection of cheese from all over the world. I lingered in front of the cheese displays for ages, finally buying some British Stilton with mango and ginger, and some crusty bread to go with it..... divine!