I love cheese. I love dessert. They are not the same thing.
Once, after finishing a meal at a friend’s house, he emerged from the kitchen with a plate of cheese. It’s not that I’d never heard of such a thing before. It was like eating tapas, or having tea at 4 o’clock: delicious, a change. I ate the cheese. There was honey involved. It was very nice!
Dessert then never came. That was OK, too!
Then, the cocktail hour at people’s houses started replicating what comes to the table at the beginning of a meal at an Italian or French restaurant: Chewy breadsticks with olive oil? Along with that damned cheese course. And no dessert.
Is it too middle-American to declare that cheese, even if it is a last course, cannot be a substitute for dessert?
A little Cracker Barrel and Triscuits, before dinner, with maybe some nuts and olives, and definitely a cocktail: That, to me, was always the cheese course. The smell of that sweating, bright-yellow, waxy cheddar, mixed with the fumes from the Lemon Endust hastily applied to the wood furniture. The smell of Entertaining.
America got fancier, and so did the cheese–and the cleaning products–but the essential element for me has always remained the same: after dinner it’s time for coffee and something sweet. Not cheese.
Over the weekend we heard about a wedding where a stack of different wheels of cheese stood in the position normally reserved for a big, frosty wedding cake.
And today, we read in Conde Nast’s home magalog, Domino, about CHEESE FOR DESSERT!
Continental ingredients and foods are great. But pairing them with continental table manners and continental entertaining styles seems to me to be a bit on the kitschy side. Like having a theme at your birthday party.
You go to someone’s house to eat what they cook, not to eat a substandard version of what you get at a restaurant. And yet these continental tics are sweeping home entertaining.
In the same way kids nowadays must be embarrassed to open their lunch box and find a mini-Snickers bar there, while their classmates happily eat things like Fruit Leather, I began to feel slightly less-than for wishing that there was a real dessert being served to me after dinner. Slowly, the anger built, until I opened Domino and it burst forth out of me like some kind of runny Reblochon.
Let me eat cake!
- Tom McGeveran