As Christmas approaches, my thoughts turn to cheese. When you are lactose intolerant like me, in the normal course of the year, cheese choice is greatly diminished. I can purchase a tasty cheddar, cream cheese and sometimes, although not often, mozzarella can be found. But when Christmas comes, the supermarkets tempt everyone with unusual extras.
Last year my daughter persuaded me to buy a selection box of vegan cheeses. Vegan works very well for the lactose intolerant. I often ‘go vegan’ when out as it ensures that meals are milk free.
The selection box looked good, promising as it did such longed for delights as blue cheese and smoked red Leicester to name but two. I saved it for Christmas eve. A savoury treat to have with the tin of assorted crackers. Delightful.
I am used to my dietary restrictions – when my digestion did not settle after a gall bladder operation (many years ago) a few tests confirmed I lacked the enzyme to digest milk and lactose in particular. A new diet and the consequent freedom from stomach cramps, nausea and diarrhoea was a blessing. But I remember the taste of good blue cheese.
When I was a child, my parents always bought a round of Stilton blue cheese that sat on the sideboard throughout the festivities. I acquired the taste early and used to scoop out the salty, pungent blue cheese with the round spoon as much as the adults, and I don’t remember it made feel ill. I tolerated all cheese in my youth – unlike now.
Parmesan is another cheesy delight I miss. Spaghetti was a new-fangled dish when I was small. My mother made it with large whole mushrooms in and there was a tub of dried parmesan that smelt of very old socks. Delicious. When I grew up, we had all graduated to ‘real’ parmesan bought in hard pointy triangles and grated onto the ‘spag-bol’ at the table. Middle-class sophistication at its best.
Parmesan always reminds me of a large dog my sister had. Mac was a beautiful black and white pointer. Paul and I stayed at my sister’s looking after their two sons while they went on holiday – and the two dogs – Bertie, a west highland terrier who was very grumpy and big Mac. All went without incident until I notice that I had refilled the dogs’ water bowl three times in as many hours. When I looked at Mac, I saw his stomach bulging and wondered what he had eaten. Yes, you’ve guessed it. A large round of parmesan – given by friends in Italy, I believe - had not been cleared away by my husband - but eaten by the dog. Anyway, Mac was fine, and we made sure we put everything away so he couldn’t steal anything else. That’s the trouble with tall dogs – they can reach the kitchen counters. Now I think about it – it was probably why Bertie the westy was so grumpy – because he couldn’t.
Anyway, back to my current cheese dilemma – so last year I bought the vegan cheese. Was I happy? Did I slather it onto fresh bread and crackers, saying bugger the calories this is scrumptious? Sadly, no. It was disgusting and tasted mostly of soap with a texture of rubber. It went in the bin – even a dog would not have eaten it!
So this year I will avoid the vegan stuff and hope the supermarkets will have a festive treat in store for me – because all I want for Christmas is a nice bit of Stilton.