I went through most of my life without thinking about cheese; I just got on with eating it. There were some cheeses I liked that you needed a hacksaw and a Black and Decker Workmate to get through and others that dribbled off the plate but I never thought to categorise them. If pushed, I suppose I’d have put Parmesan down as ‘hard’ and ricotta as ‘soft’. And pasteurisation? I was brought up on milk that we’d collect still warm from the cows in a manky bucket so the potential germiness of dairy products didn’t keep me awake at night.
Then I got pregnant with my first child.
Being a cheese lover and pregnant is a cruel purgatory. I love tea and wine too but the mere thought of them would send me dry-heaving into the nearest carrier bag. But not so cheese. I still wanted cheese. I craved cheese. I probably had a calcium deficiency, I needed cheese so much. But suddenly contemplating a cheeseboard was like playing Russian Roulette.
There seemed to be no rules. Roquefort (blue) was bad but Stilton (blue) was fine. Ricotta (squidgy-looking) was on the menu but Camembert (squidgy-looking) was a no-no. Romantic meals for two would be cut short to Google whether goat’s cheese is okay if it’s on a pizza. Indian restaurants would be derailed for the evening by my frantic phone calls trying to establish whether the paneer I ate was pasteurised or not. I feigned illness to avoid going to my work Christmas lunch because Brie was the starter. I agonised over the conundrum that was Parmesan; hard cheese (good) but unpasteurised (bad). By the time my son was born, I felt like there was nothing I didn’t know about cheese.
Then I didn’t sleep for a year and forgot the lot.
So here I am again, endlessly cheese-studying, and turns out that I knew nothing. From rind-washing to mould-ripening, cave-ageing to home-flocculating (ooh-er, missus!) cheese is a complicated old business. I really am a complete fromage novice.
I’m not sure where this cheese adventure will take me. But one thing’s for sure. No more pregnancy-induced cheese prohibitions for me. My calving days are over.