How Cheese Came Into My Life: The College Years
For those who did not tune in last Saturday, this is part two of an ongoing series about how I got so fussy and my ongoing love affair with cheese.
This story of my culinary dark ages will not send you to your cheesemonger in search of wonderful treats. Hopefully, however, it may start you thinking about unexpected things you can do with unexpected ingredients.
It’s time to check the snobbery at the door.
In college I was dirt poor. The things I ate for sustenance were legend. Potato salad sandwiches. Condiment “burgers.” Two-for-a-dollar WaWa chili cheese dogs. Frozen clams of questionable age chipped out of the block of ice that formed in the back of the freezer.
Even within this penury I had a desire for coaxing assertive tastes from cheese.
My grandmother sent me a care package. One of the shelf-stable foodstuffs it contained was a brick of Velveeta. It was an odd thing to send, since I cannot recall ever eating it before then. And I never saw it in my Nana’s house.
I was trying to figure out what to do with my newfound bounty. And my thought process went like this:
- Velveeta is probably a bit like cheddar.
- I recently was on a date at The Melting Pot.
- They had a cheddar fondue at the restaurant.
- It used beer and garlic.
- I am living in a fraternity house, and have an endless supply of free beer.
- My friend across the hall has a jar of garlic powder.
- He also has a microwave.
And thus I invented microwave Velveeta fondue.
Today there is no microwave in the Fussy household. And no amount of penury could make me buy a block of Velveeta. I am, however, still opposed to waste, so if one showed up at the house, I would indeed find some way to make it edible.
I cannot tell you with any certainty if this is good. But at the time, it was freaking wonderful. And I was not just me who thought so.
We had a French friend, Matthew. And he spoke with a strong French accent, and made love to beautiful women, and smoked, and we all found him to be very worldly. Did I mention he was French?
So at the time, he was our de facto expert on cheese. The rest of us didn’t even know what we didn’t know.
At a party back in Miami, I decided to remake the microwave Velveeta fondue for Matthew to see what he thought. And while he acknowledged that it wasn’t really fondue, he did think it was quite good and continued to eat it after giving me his verdict.
I felt vindicated.
I had triumphed over the weird squishy orange log of cheese-like substance. I took it and molded it into something greater than the sum of its parts.
And with Matthew’s validation, this was perhaps my first successful cooking experiment. There were plenty of failures before and since. But we don’t need to go into that now.
Next week I move to California where things really get interesting.