Planning Memories

My wife and I are designing a new house. In our attempt to economize, we often find ourselves compromising one room’s plans for another. One place we won’t skimp though is on the areas that have to do with food.

So many of the memories we hope to create have to do with food. Holiday dinners where everyone is around a long table and the oohs and aahs sound as the feast is revealed. Though it may seem an extravagance, we’re planning an outdoor kitchen with a pizza oven and we imagine family and friends laughing as they see me dressed in my apron and gather around to enjoy my homemade (what else?) pizza quattro formaggio!

We designed the house around the kitchen, a decision symbolic of the central place of meal preparation in our culture and family life. We placed a long island in the center, so lots of people could join in the preparation of a meal. We look at the blueprints and somehow can hear a robust conversation as salads are tossed, wine is sipped and piecrusts are rolled.

When our friends come over, we want them to leave not only with full bellies but also with minds richer than when they arrived. That’s why cheese is so much fun. You buy a few selections and put them out. Maybe make a little sign explaining the cheese and fly a little flag showing where it came from.

One thing there’s no place for in our snapshots of future memories is snobbery. It’s terrible when some snooty restaurant serves a cheese platter without identifying each cheese for those dining. Even offering an assortment without helping people to make that selection is kind of rude. We suspect such behavior often masks ignorance, as our experience has always been that in food, people who know a lot are happy to share that knowledge.

With the enormous variety of cheeses from around the world and the explosion of production of artisanal cheese in the United States, even great experts haven’t tried them all. One fun way we use to select cheeses is to look at the results of competitions, such as the one just sponsored by The American Cheese Society. A list of winners is available at You can print it off, bring it to the store and look for the winning cheeses. What a delicious way to try new things!

By the way, judging is tough work but important both to help shoppers know how to distinguish some of the best and as a prod to inspire cheesemakers to ever greater heights. So all of us here at Cheese Connoisseur were very proud that our own Lee Smith,  was asked to serve as one of the aesthetic judges for the competition, an honor she executed conscientiously.

I told my 7-year-old son, whose favorite cheese is Manchego, about Lee’s task of judging so many cheeses. It’s hard to amaze children because they don’t yet have a sense of what is normal and what is extraordinary. So he listened politely, nonplussed by the news and then asked: “Did she get to judge a Manchego?” When I explained Manchego is a Spanish cheese and this was The American Cheese Society, he said he wanted to try some cheeses from our country. But only if he could also eat his Manchego. That’s a deal I was quick to make.