Seven years ago, I lived for the year in Oxford. A wonderful city full of dreaming spires, ever-pervading mists and lovely cobbled streets.
I noticed all these things because they were an obvious part of the town, but also because they were (oh-so-importantly) free. One didn’t need any money to walk through the lanes and soak up the serenity. Which was good, because I was poor. £1.60-an-hour poor. “Squirreling away butter portions and stale bread (not a joke), and even finding floor-moneys for a cab ride home one shameful night” poor.
We mended our own clothes (which we’d bought off the tuppence sale rack at Topshop). We made our own risotto out of rice and tomato soup. The height of culinary prowess at the boarding school in which we worked was a Yorkshire pudding that consisted of boiled grey sausages whimpering in a bain-marie of pancake batter.
But our favourite foodie event was the staff welcome-lunch every trimester. Oh it was a dream! We got salads (without mayonnaise). We got dried fruit. And. we. got. cheese.
I approached the blue cheese with caution. I had always hated it back in Australia, but that little wedge of rippled creamy-bluey wonder represented luxury, affluence and everything I couldn’t eat during those cold and destitute days in the dark of winter.
So I ate. And with every bite I created some form of neo-Pavlovian response that associated blue cheese with everything that was right in the world.
Before long, I was a regular visitor at The Oxford Cheese Company. I would walk down St Clements Street, past the University Church of St Mary the Virgin and into the covered market off High Street to sample the offerings. My reputation as a cheese-fan grew so strong that one of the Argentinean girls working at the school pulled me aside one day and said, “Doesn’t that cheese make you uh, sometimes, not be able to go to the bathroom?”
Internal workings aside…
In my journey to the centre of blue, I was pulled aside one day and introduced to something very special: St Agur.
With a tiny sliver offered clandestinely before supper, I was blown away. It began a true love of cheese that has grown and grown. Despite my lack of funds, I was still able to enjoy the foods I really loved – I watched my pennies and saved up for the important things.
When I sit down with my St Agur tonight, I’m reminded of those early days. The delicate and creamy flavour has that dusty bite that I grew to relish, and even the name itself brings back memories of days spent with six lovely young women in the world’s most beautiful city.
Some cheeses deserve long descriptions detailing tasting notes and subtle nuances of flavour. And some cheeses just deserve a good trip down memory lane.