“I brought us some dinner,” my husband smiled as he dragged an overstuffed canvas bag of groceries into the house.
I looked up from the computer, where I was diligently finishing an editing job, long enough to tell him I was starving. He went into the kitchen to put away the food and came back a few minutes later.
“Do you think this is okay?” James shoved a hunk of Morbier under my nose. I sniffed. It smelled strongly of ammonia and something else—a little like the close creamy air in the dairy room of the small farm where we used to buy fresh milk in Massachusetts.
“You sure?” He held the stinky cheese so close to me that it touched my nostrils. From that vantage point the smell was a lot more unpleasant. More like the cow’s stall than the milk room, suspiciously flatulent.
“I could smell it before,” I protested, my nostrils recoiling. “It’s fine. I think.”
So James put on some Coltrane, poured two glasses of Shiraz, and brought back a plate of salami, cheese, olives, bread, and oranges into the living room. We drank our wine and managed to forget, for a moment, that we have three small children whose whining today would have brought Mother Teresa to her knees.
James spread some Morbier on a piece of fougasse and took a brave bite.
“It’s good?” he said, like he was trying to convince himself.
I tried some too.
Although the cheese tasted like straw mixed with cow dung to me, I didn’t want to ruin the moment by saying so. Not that James would have taken it badly. He prides himself on having an adventuresome palate and insists he’ll try anything once but he doesn’t expect everyone in the family to share his culinary open mind.
Besides, when I lived in Niger, West Africa and a steaming bowl of fried locusts was set in front of me by one of the chief’s wives in Deytegui-Beri, I followed her lead and snapped off my delicacy’s head, discarded the black brains, and crunched the erstwhile insect between my teeth, trying hard not to gag. James has never been able to top that.
But stinky cheese is closer to his heart than the seviche and the saddle of rabbit he had at the Peerless when my father-in-law came to visit. My mother-in-law has a vivid recollection of how her mom and dad, whose families were both from Italy, would prepare platters of Limberger—a gooey German cheese—raw onions, and dark rye bread and carry them into the basement and away from the children. The smell was so strong that they wouldn’t eat the Limberger in the kitchen because it would stink up the house.
“Stinky cheese! Stinky cheese!” my 5-year-old chants in the grocery store. Is there a gene for it? Maybe it’s an Italian thing.
We finish our dinner and James clears the dishes, poking his head back in to tell me that the guys at the co-op almost didn’t sell him the cheese because it was puffy and bubbling under the wrapper. Coltrane’s saxophone screeches to a stop.
“Now the cheese is away and I can still smell it,” James exclaims. “Whew, that is some serious cheese.”
The crickets tasted like shrimp. In spite of myself I rather liked them.