Having been raised in a lower economic region in the state of Kentucky, I count myself truly blessed that I have been able to rise up and travel to many countries and see other cultures from around the world. In fact, my first taste of cheese was most likely that of “government cheese” issued to families below the poverty line and, according to CheeseWiki.com, “consists of a variety of cheese types and other ingredients such as emulsifiers blended together and may be made of any of cheddar, Colby cheese, cheese curd or granular cheese.”
Even from my humble origins, I always liked cheese and thought it a great luxury to sometimes order slices of American, cheddar or Colby myself from my neighborhood “mom-and-pop” grocer, whose entire family lived above their small corner store. But my voyage — in school, work and life — has led me to broaden my horizons. Going from Kentucky to study at a university in upstate New York quickly opened my eyes to the plethora of cheeses imported into the country and produced by artisans all around the U.S. And after college ended, my first trip outside of the country was to England, where I was introduced to the great nuances of Stiltons and the soft cheeses from Bath.
Over the years, through experiences at domestic and international food shows, business travel and holidays, I have had the pleasure of being further introduced to cheeses from all corners of the globe: Manchego cheese from Spain, Gouda on the banks of Amsterdam, Époisses on the Champs Élysées in Paris, and soft burratas from the south of Italy, just to name a few.
I think of these experiences as I drive back from dropping my eldest child, a daughter, off at college. I remember her as a young girl enjoying grilled cheese sandwiches and macaroni and cheese and, as she grew, her tastes expanded to being a young cheese connoisseur herself, preferring warmed brie with jam and crackers as a snack instead of the junk food many of her friends eat.
As she dives into the college experience, I imagine she will learn so much, not just from classes, but through her dormmates and friends, where they might prepare specialty cheese with just the right crackers and accompaniments during get-togethers. She will travel, too, and maybe find friends from cheese-producing states such as Vermont, Wisconsin, Oregon or California, or even abroad. And she might visit their homes and their cities and, at each place, expand her horizons. The tastes, flavors and smells of the countless specialty cheeses I’ve sampled are now part of my life, all enriching and an important part of me. As my daughter begins her journey, I wish her every success, of course, and I hope she knows that it is okay to sample great cheeses wherever she goes and keep the joys of eating those specialty cheeses with people she cares about as great memories wherever she may be.