Cheese is my greatest weakness. Any diet I have ever started has always failed because of cheese. Until I became an avid runner (I suggest this, if you’re an avid eater, by the way), I always had somewhat high cholesterol, and, truthfully, I blame it on the cheese.
One cheese in particular has always had a uniquely special place in my gluttonous palate, and that is the achingly smooth, sinfully buttery brie cheese. I haven’t met a brie I haven’t liked, and this is why anytime I’m invited over to a dinner party or family affair, there’s always a rather generous wedge of brie and some disembodied voice cries out from the kitchen, “Rachel! That brie is for you! I know how much you love it!” Even if I wanted to count calories, how could I not indulge in something someone thoughtfully purchased and displayed just with me in mind? And so I have just a little nibble, which, with a little wine, and very little self-control when it comes to culinary delicacies I have deemed a “favorite,” I somehow manage to choke down a substantial hunk of the glistening, cream colored treat.
I firmly believe I have my father to blame for my particular penchant for brie cheese, as he introduced it to me when I was just barely stumbling into toddlerhood. This was when he, my fiery-haired mother and I used to live in Los Angeles and headed to the Hollywood Bowl every so often. We would arrive early, and at some picnic tables on a hill behind the amphitheater, we would hurriedly feast on gleaming, succulent red grapes and tender brie cheese. I’m sure there was some cheap, but good enough, bottle of wine bought at Trader Joe’s, which my parents would share, but I, at the ripe old age of 2 ½ , was mostly fixated on the rich yet mild cheese.
All three of us would savor the moldy wedge, but my mom, would always peel away the opaque white “skin” that covered the creamy interior of the brie, and my dad, whose favorite part of brie is this “skin,” would eat her discarded bits. As a young girl, I strove to emulate my mother as closely as I could, and would demand my brie be served to me in skinless pieces too; convinced I hated both the taste and texture of this formaggio’s exoskeleton.
As I got older, we moved away from L.A., and my parent’s relationship faded, as did my own relationship with my father, and while cheese wasn’t enough to patch my parents back together, I’m fairly certain it was that same cheese we shared at the Hollywood Bowl so many years earlier that started to strengthen the bond between me and my dad again.
The summer he moved out of our family house and into his own apartment was the same summer I moved away to Boston for college. When I came home for Christmas break later that year, I begrudgingly made dinner plans with my dad and his girlfriend, Gretchen, and I remember the walk to his grungy building as though it were a death march. When I arrived, I was greeted by the usual sheepish grin and awkward, paralytic silence characteristic of my father, but there was also a peace offering already out on the table: the ubiquitous slab of brie cheese.
“It’s brie cheese,” he stammered, obviously proud of himself. “You love brie cheese. I got it just for you.”
I think I rolled my eyes, and, in a moment of teenage-angst-induced resolve, refused to eat any of his “peace cheese”, or to take it with me at the end of the night, when he carefully wrapped the untouched piece in plastic wrap and handed it to me, his eyes sad.
It would be several more years, and many more chunks of cheese, before I appreciated how much my dad actually cared and before I saw him as a human being, one with raw, deep emotions. One day, at lunch, I was served a sandwich with brie, skin still attached. I was still squeamish about the skin, but gave it try, and discovered I actually loved the earthiness and complexity this outside layer added to the whole brie experience. I suddenly had a new appreciation for the depth food could harbor. Maybe this was why it was my dad’s favorite part – unable to communicate the depth of his emotion, he relied on the cheese, deliciously smeared between two crusty slices of French bread, to speak for him.