Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Healing Powers of Cheese

14:25:00 Posted by Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography , , , , , , , No comments
As a family, we have always loved cheese.  Of us all, my dad is probably the biggest fan, waxing lyrical at the sight of a Stinking Bishop or a dark veined Roquefort.  He can often be found by an open fridge door, mouth chomping, a chunk of cheese in his hand, looking slightly guilty. 

Not long ago I visited my parents. My mum has a medical condition which means she's lost her sense of smell, and my dad (probably like most men) wouldn't notice if you let off a stink bomb under his nose.  Hence, my mum's request, every time I visit, to 'have a sniff around and tell me if you smell anything bad.' 

As the front door opened the smell hit me. It was horrendous: a combination of dirty dishcloths and kitchen waste.  Mum's face was a picture, as I gave her a quick kiss and marched purposefully towards the kitchen, nose on full throttle.  Dishcloths looked clean, the bin wasn't full, there was nothing in the sink.  

I turned to the fridge and opened it. The smell didn't seep out, it burst out!  On the top shelf was a large Camembert in a box. I opened the lid and nearly passed out. Inside was the softest, ripest , runniest, stinkiest cheese ever to be contained in a box. Plucking it from the shelf I ran out of the back door and into the garden, as if transporting a bomb.  There I deposited the stinking item onto the path and stood back. Mum and dad peered at me through the window. 

Don't get me wrong, I love strong cheese. Stinking, runny Camembert is one of my favourites, I just don't want visitors to my mum and dad's to be put off before they've even got in the hall.  These days, cheese with the slightest potential for being smelly, is immediately confined to a locked lean-to at the back of the kitchen.  Visitors are warned to venture in with extreme caution.  Or a face mask. 

I've written in a previous post about my visit to France between 'O' and ''A' levels.   I stayed in a Children's Home, high up in the mountains, and, unless it was blowing a gale or pouring with rain, all meals were eaten outside at a long table.  

On the first evening, after we had finished the main course, in an effort to appear helpful, I leaned across the table and began to gather the used crockery.  Shocked faces turned towards me and, gabbling in French, grabbed back their plates.  I didn't need my limited grasp of the language to understand I had made some terrible faux pas.  

As a large bowl of freshly sliced peaches was passed down the table and the children helped themselves it dawned on me that the same plates were used for each course.  It was at this point I offered up a silent prayer to an upbringing that had ensured no meal was over until every plate was scraped clean. As I deposited peaches in the remains of the gravy on my plate, I made a silent note to utilise the bread for a final wipe round before dessert the following day. 

Having eaten the peaches, and just as I was debating whether to risk a second attempt at plate collecting, a huge, circular cheese was produced from the kitchen and a loud cheer went up.  I was a little surprised that both adults and children would be getting so excited by a cheese, but little did I know what was to come.  

If I remember rightly, a barbecue was wheeled out (or perhaps it had been there all the time), the cheese was introduced to it for some minutes, then swiftly removed from the heat and held above a plate. With a flourish, thick, semi melted cheese was scraped from the cut end to plop unceremoniously into the remains of the peach juice. 



Now, I've always loved cheese, any type, any strength, but never have I enjoyed cheese as much as I did that night.  Sitting atop a mountain with a lot of strangers speaking in a foreign language as the sky slowly changed from pink to dusky grey, I broke off a piece of crusty baguette, mopped at the gooey  melted cheese (infused with peach juice) and just for a moment forgot I was homesick. 

The memory of that first night has stayed with me for lots of reasons, but mainly because it was the night I felt the healing powers of cheese. 


The Healing Powers of Cheese by Jill Reidy 

It was strange
That first night 
At the top of a mountain in France
Surrounded by excited children
And serious adults
Speaking in a foreign tongue
I was sad
I felt lonely
Homesick 
I sat at the table 
And ate the stew
Which rolled around my mouth
Was difficult to swallow
And the freshly sliced peaches
Which slid down 
All from the same plate
I thought about home
And roast dinners
My mum's sherry trifle 
In a clean dish 
Tears were just below the surface

Then

The cheer
The huge cheese
The smouldering coals
The scraping of the melted mess
Onto the twice used plate
The crispy bread
Ripped and dipped
Cheese dripping from my chin
Pure gluttonous enjoyment
Laughter
Sky turned from pink to dusky grey
For a moment 
I was lost in a delicious, healing, cheesy bubble



Thanks for reading      Jill








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