Something so deliciously corrupt about them

Joseph Conrad's characters (I have been rereading him lately) do not seem to eat. Too busy with typhoons, laying down bombs or being Garibaldi in unspecified parts of Central America, think I. But in fact the explanation is far simpler and lies in the fact that many of them live out their complicated lives where there is no cheese, as for instance the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca.

There is something gastronomically missing in a cheeseless society. The idea that you might be sitting by a mountain lake in south-central Mexico, eating excellent grilled huachinango and not have something to chase away one taste and finish the wine with is somehow dispiriting. There are parts of the tropical river system of Venezuela and northern Brazil where you will be fortunate to find anything to eat at all, but when hunger sets in, that sort of intermediate hunger which is not gung- ho for a real meal but can use some dampening down, I have a genuine nostalgia for cheese.

Nor are the triste tropics the only places where this want is felt. Poland has a lot of pigs; pigs don't get milked (piglets get the entire supply); so Poles don't have cheese. Certainly one of the reasons I hated my gastronomic trip to China two years ago is that except in the remoter regions of the north and east, cheese is not part of their culture.

Then there are those countries - say Spain and Portugal and Greece - that have a cheese or two but don't really have cheeses; and others (Scandinavia and the Netherlands come to mind) that eat cheese in quantity, but produce cheeses they have done their best to ensure taste of nothing at all.

I speak here as something of a renegade for, in common with my whole family, I am - apart from butter and cheese - a strictly non-dairy man. I have had a life-long fear of developing an ulcer from being forced to drink milk. I like ice- cream little; I will not touch yoghurts; I tolerate cream only with fruit. I can think of not one of my children who has not spurned breakfast cereals because of the milk required to make them soggy. Yet we have always loved cheese. Why?

I cannot say that cheese played an important part in my early diet, apart from parmesan on pasta or in risottos and minestra. Yet from very early I can remember at least three striking cheese flavours. First the little silverfoil-wrapped, round Bel Paese cheeses that were universal before the war, filling, creamy and delicious; then that weird and wonderful, all-but-vanished hard, Swiss, mountain-herb green cheese called sapsago, whose principal flavour comes from melilot, a sweet form of clover; and finally real, deep-golden gruyre of which, my mother assures me, I would insist on eating only the parts around the holes.

What did these cheeses have in common? I think in childhood they provided a contrast to the rest of my diet, a salt, chalky, savoury contrast, and they were vaguely exotic. I never saw the parmesan that was added to our Italian dishes, but these three cheeses were visible and tangible.

It was not until I grew up that I began to appreciate cheese as the embodiment of a superior corruption: that is, as something that mysteriously grew better as it aged and ripened. This must be a reflection of my tendency to like food on the borderline of perishability. I am known for not stopping short even when the gorgonzola is about to walk across the table. I like my meat well-hung, my game high, my cheeses ripe. In short, whatever is just short of disintegration.

Thus it comes about that I have much less feeling for those stable cheeses, from cheddar to gouda, that seldom really ripen. Camembert and brie and reblochon and roquefort will all convert themselves into runny extremes, and it is then that they show themselves most fully individual. For though all cheeses start with milk (cow, ewe or goat) some of them stay in their original, bland state; others have corruption in them from the start, whether or natural or induced by additives that bring about the ripening.

The fact that eating cheese does wonders for the digestion and goes wonderfully with the last few glasses left in the bottle may have something to do with it; but ultimately I suspect ripeness is indeed all, and that in the same way I like my bananas near-soft and certainly darkening, I have a natural affinity for the decaying part of our lives, for autumn, the rot of vegetation, the conversion of life into death.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment