I have always enjoyed cheese but never considered myself to be a ‘cheese person’ prior to arriving in the UK. The Brits take their cheese very seriously and it was amusing to hear them scoff at American style cheeses and Wisconsin as our ‘cheese capital’. One thing you need to know when visiting, is that cheese is for dessert. Maybe a snack, but NEVER an appetizer.
I made this mistake once at a dinner party and I haven’t been allowed to forget it.
The story goes like this: shortly after arrival at my friend Karen’s, I had my drink in hand and was having a wander through her lounge (aka living room). I noticed cheese and crackers sitting on the bookshelf and so I cut off a piece of some excellent coastal bite cheddar and whacked it in my gob (put it in my mouth). I was looking at her cookbook collection and when I turned to ask about her James Martin compendium, I noticed she had raised eyebrows. ‘Umm, why are you eating the pudding**?’
Delicious as it was, I wanted to spit it out immediately. I felt terribly embarrassed but as I had gotten used to this feeling, I blamed it on my Americanism. 'Oh, isn’t this the appetizer?’
After her decisive 'NO', talk then shifted to ‘cheese as an appetizer.' Another friend piped up. ‘Is it true that you Americans eat liquid cheese from a can?’ Uh, not if you can help it. Of course, she was referring to Easy Cheese. So un-cheese like, they really should spell cheese with a ‘z’.
I spent some time pondering this strange product. I know we love our convenience but how difficult is regular cheese that you need to liquify and hermetically seal it? Now, don't talk to me about meltability. I've left Velveeta out of this. I've accepted that after the apocalypse, this product will make perfect sense but as long as we live in an era with real cows and refrigeration, well, there's really no excuse. Why don't the Easy Cheese packaging engineers solve a real dairy puzzle like how to prevent yogurt from squirting all over my seatmate on an airplane. It doesn't matter which direction I aim it. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
After that episode, I made it a point to study the cheeses on offer at Tesco. The names read like the Championship league table (soccer). Cheshire, Stilton, Leicester, Shropshire, Wensleydale, Double Gloucester. I also started to order the cheeseboard for dessert. At first, I was still unconvinced. I am usually WAY too full to eat cheese but I discovered if you eat lightly, it is a very pleasant experience. And segues nicely into drinking. Can a brownie do that?
Anyway, at the next group dinner party, my confidence was high and my purse held a precious can of Easy Cheese. After a lovely meal, I pulled out that liquid gold and plopped it down on the cheese board.
As an aside, I selected that damn Easy Cheese (in the Defiance, OH Walmart, no less) like a sommalier chooses a fine wine. It was a tough call. Nacho? Cheddar? American? What best complements oat cakes and chutney? My reverie was interrupted as a hand reached across me for a can of bean dip so I gently placed a can of American (was there any other choice, really?) in my cart and moved on to find some chocolate chips.
Back to the dinner. Well, there was an initial burst of laughter and joking around. But no one was eating it. I led the way by demonstrating the technique and squirted a neat and tidy swirl onto a cracker. Down the hatch.
It has been a very long time since I consumed Easy Cheese. As expected, it was not good. I think they have cost reduced it since the last time I ate it in the 80's. It was not dis-similar to yellow caulking.
But my lead was all it took. They began squirting it directly in the mouth. USA! USA! USA!
**'Pudding' is a common English term for 'dessert'-- you would see this term toward the back of most British menus. So If you're new to this nomenclature, and someone asks, 'And what will you have for pudding?,' the only logical response that will occur to you is something along the lines of, 'Umm...butterscotch, I guess?'