Thursday, 7 January 2016


For lunch yesterday I treated myself to some mature goat's cheese on pumpkin seed and oat Ryvita. Cheese used to be to me what mashed potato was to Nora Ephron. Note the term 'used', as now it is a rare treat, a luxury, to curb a craving, or eaten from necessity because it features heavily in all vegetarian options on the menu. This isn't America where you can say to the server: Hold the cheese, because in the UK (or is it just small villages in Surrey?) there is a tendency for cheese to be the main source of veggie protein in mainstream restaurant dishes, and there's no offered extras or 'instead ofs'. In most cases that cheese is melted or embedded in a pre-made salad, sandwich or burger. And all you would be left with is very plain fare at the same exorbitant cost.
First it was cheddar, then mozzarella; goat's cheese then feta, until halloumi burst on the scene. The cheese world shaken by this invasion as everyone vied to do something with it. But unlike so many I for one was not bowled over. Its flavour, for me, too mild and its texture too greasy. Any melted cheese turns my stomach having seen what it does to your insides. Bacon sits, melted fat clings, both move sluggishly through your digestive system.
And yet occasionally that stored away memory of cheese and...crackers, bread, pasta, potato kicks in, a sharp pang of 'I want it. Now'. Mostly I resist, the 'ghost' taste enough to dispel the sudden yearning, and cave just once a year, discounting the dining-out where I've had no choice but to eat it in whatever format it comes.
So why be a martyr? Why impose this dietary rule? Vegetarians eat cheese after all. Or there's dairy-free, which coincidentally I don't get the point of. It's almost as good as the real thing, but it's not the REAL THING. It's overly processed, indigestible. It's like opting for products that claim to be low in sugar or low in fat, you're often better off going for the 'full' version. In moderation, of course.
I was never a moderate eater of cheese. That was the problem, and when I became a veggie at the ripe age of 13, the habit escalated. The compulsion to consume more than I reasonably should took over. My palms clammy, my fingers twitching like a narcotic addict. And like all addictions, cheese, in the end, had the last laugh. A fr-enemy. Something I craved, but couldn't have because the feel-good surge was short-lived compared to the longer-felt effects. Some people have difficulty tolerating dairy sugars and fats, and unfortunately I became one of them. Goodbye beloved cheese. Your richness is too much for me, farewell.
Recovered, I can treat but not indulge. The side-effects have lessened and so has its desire. The pleasure much, much fainter, my senses not driven mad as they once were.
Relapses, very few, although I now do have to include yesterday.
I gave in to my body's demands, thinking where's the harm? I am more disciplined these days. That was my first error of judgement. But that mistake was realised later. Much later when the delicacy was gone after one sitting.
The mature goat's cheddar had been procured three days before from a deli counter; a small weighed portion, enough for possibly two lunches, or one lunch and the rest grated as a topping for dinner. Unable to bear the torment any longer, I went about the making of my lunch almost religiously. The plastic wrapper and part of the inedible rind removed in a respectful silence, the first slice cut with a trembling hand. Oh Lord, bless the bounty I'm about to receive. That first slice, that first taste proved fatal. The undoing of me. My knife strokes gathered speed and surety as I covered three rectangles of Ryvita, my fingers quick to pick up crumbs and pop them in my waiting mouth. Done, there was only a small chunk left which was obviously too spare for another lunch and too lean to grate. For a second, if that, I paused, then committed myself to the act: finishing it in its pure state.