One person’s three seconds might be another’s ten-seconds-with-a-bit-of-dust-on-it-and-is-that-seasoning-or-lint?-I-can’t-tell. One person might ditch the leftovers after the requisite two days, and another may be perfectly happy to eat a ten-foot hoagie sub several weeks after the mayonnaise has gone rancid.
But the three-second rule goes out the window when you’re dealing with cheese. And any true cheese-lover knows that timelines considered unacceptable for meatstuffs, drinking yoghurt and general perishables are TOTES fine for cheese.
Case in point: a recent secretive encounter with my new favourite cheesemonger at a nearby deli.
We’ve had a variety of conversations, Cheesemonger and I. Initially he seemed aloof and posh, but I realised he was just checking how serious I was about the sweet sweet dairy joy he was purveying. After a few return visits, I’d clearly made the cut and he was ready to show me the good stuff.
On this particular day, when I asked for a suggestion, he cast a few furtive sideways glances and leant forward over the glass counter, beckoning me closer.
“I have something for you,” he whispered conspiratorially, dipping his head towards a small balsa wood box at the back of his cabinet. “This stuff is not like anything you’ve ever tasted. But I warn you, the expiry date...she has, how you say, passed.”
Not stopping to think why his tone had suddenly shifted from wizened old sage, to cheap Jacques Clouseau parody, I gazed into the cabinet and saw it.
Epoisses fromage, AOC. A soft ripened cheese made from pasteurised cow’s milk, with a washed rind. Matured with Burgundy Brandy. Hand wrapped by the Gregorian monks of eastern Chalancey who were killed after making it, to forever protect the secret...I presume.
The Cheesemonger gave a slow, squinty nod.
“Other customers tell me that I shouldn’t be selling it because the date has passed. As though Australians really know when a cheese is good – pah! The expiry date is when it starts to really come alive. But others, they will say, ‘she is turning’. Fie on them.”
Fie on them indeed. I handed over a few worn silver coins for the cheese, excited by the prospect that it might serve as an anthropomorphic after-dinner treat, and I, the modern Prometheus, would get to bask in its reflected glory.
That night, we had a moment, the cheese and I. Let’s not lie, when I cut into the rind, it gave off a stink that would have made any self-respecting health inspector insist on the continuing importance of expiry date legislation. The innards were runny and smooth, and while the cheese was not yet turning, it was certainly asking for directions.
But in the truest sense of the word, it was sensational. Every sense was awakened: the smell (pungent), the sight (spotted with...mould?), the taste (Gregorian Brandy), the physical touch (viscous, best served in a large wine glass). I was delighted.
Three days later, I was still delighted.
A week later, it had a taken on its own quaint personality.
A two weeks and half weeks later, it started talking about said personality and discussing holiday plans, including how it would really love to take a break in a little cottage in the Cotswolds, because that would really show the Chesterton-Brown family a thing or two!
Yes, it had turned. When your cheese starts talking about time-share accommodation, it’s time to say goodbye.
With all the self-hatred of a maker rejection its creation, I cast the cheese out into the wilderness and left it to wander the desolate moors.
The next time I saw the Cheesemonger, he gave me a knowing nod. And as I looked down into the cabinet, another Epoisses fromage had risen up in its predecessors place.