My love affair with stinky cheese began when I was fairly small, making sandwiches at my aunt’s house. She always had a wedge of cambozola in her fridge – an out-of-this-world delicious cheese that blends the texture of camembert with the flavour of gorgonzola. I took far more than my fair share of this divine cambozola, spreading it generously on my bread with cold cuts, so that it was more a cheese sandwich than anything.
During my year-long exchange to Sardinia when I was sixteen, I discovered that a large hunk of pecorino, sheep’s cheese, typically inhabits a permanent position in the centre of the table. Every meal involved fresh bread from the bakery, topped with chunks of pecorino that were carefully whittled away by my methodical host father. A meal wasn’t complete without it.
My commitment to quality stinky cheese reached an all-time high when I traveled to Amsterdam in 2008. A bit of context is necessary to better appreciate the story, so bear with me. My sister had been living there for a year and I found a super cheap ticket online that made it actually worth going for four days. When it came time to leave, I decided to stock up on as much Dutch cheese as possible. My sister took me to a cheese shop, which was one of the most fabulous places I’d ever seen (not like the one described in that hilarious Monty Python skit).
I browsed and spent till I’d bought more cheese than I could eat in a few months. Then it got packed into my suitcase and hauled across the Atlantic. I know I probably could buy most of those cheeses in Canada, but you know how it is when you’re traveling – there’s this somewhat irrational perception that it’s better because you bought it from an exotic place.
The trip home was more eventful than planned.
I did not declare the cheese. I knew I was bringing some soft, fresh cheese into the country that wasn’t allowed, and thought I’d sneak it by. I was so nervous, though, that the customs officer became suspicious. He kept talking and I got sweatier and hotter and more twitchy by the second. Basically, he was trying to figure out why a 21-year-old girl would go to Amsterdam for only four days. Then it dawned on me; he thought I was carrying marijuana. Bingo. Next thing I knew, my bags were being searched and emptied, and my precious cheese was getting unpacked and revealed. I was stricken with horror.
The inspector searched and searched, and found no marijuana. I could have told her that – there was none. But that beautiful cheese, oh delicious cheese, became the focus of her investigation. She confiscated a whole bunch of it, but let me keep about half. She warned me to declare it in the future and said she’d waive the fine this time – thank goodness, because the fine was more than the cost of my ticket!
I went home and ate cheese for a week straight. My friend Megan arrived from California for a visit and also ate cheese with me. After a few days, she warned we’d have trouble going to the bathroom at that rate, but I didn’t care. I was in mourning for my lost cheeses.
I continue to enjoy eating stinky cheese of all kinds; hard, soft, strong, mild, it’s all delicious. My husband is growing to appreciate it, too, and even the toddler has become accustomed. A couple days ago, I realized with certainty that I’ve passed on my love of cheese to him when he asked for more oka on his toast. He’s two, people, and he’s a fan of oka! I’m celebrating.