Life is about hierarchies. Everyone is subject to hierarchy, even those who swear they don’t. Mine is: God, my wife, our daughter – and then Manchego. Yes, Manchego. “Oh God, I’m so thankful for Manchego,” I should say as I pray.
Such a high grade of cheese is strange to me because I shouldn’t have it. I’m lactose intolerant, which means I can’t fully digest the sugar in milk. As a result, I’m sweating, blistering, cramping, and my stomach is getting round like I’ve swallowed a globe. Still, I eat manchego like it’s threatened with extinction.
I’m not a scientist, but my basic observations have taught me that white people get far more excited when they see a piece of cheese than any black person, and that’s probably because black people are more likely to have problems with dairy. Boston Children’s Hospital reported that “80 percent of all African Americans and Native Americans are lactose intolerant.”
And knowing that, I still chose Manchego and will continue to do so.
I met the cheese on a beautiful fall evening at Charleston, an upscale restaurant in Baltimore’s Harbor East neighborhood. My wife, who I was dating at the time, beamed like a liberal at a Birkenstock sale as the waiter made the rounds with a glass case laden with cheeses of all kinds, in endless shapes, colors and smells. “Is that…” Her eyes gleamed, jaw dropping as she placed both small hands on her heart. “Is that manchego?” she asked.
“What is manchego?” I said like a pedestrian, “Sounds disgusting, like a rare form of snot. Can I order another gimlet from you?”
The waiter nodded. My wife rolled her eyes in her head.
“Manchego is the best cheese you’ll ever have.” The waiter nodded in agreement again and placed a healthy slice on my wife’s plate. She carefully carved out a thin piece and pointed it in my direction. And I guess the stars were aligned, as I chose a wine to pair with my four-course meal that night and was already enjoying a full-bodied red zin that paired perfectly with the piece of cheese I was about to devour . The first nibble felt like I’d just bitten into a piece of vacation.
From that day on, I kept buying the expensive cheese and shredded nuggets to enjoy with my wine – red, white, or whatever goes. And then one day I had a crazy realization, a vision that allowed me to imagine that I could do even more with this cheese. yes it can be expensive However, life is like that and I should work on enjoying it more.
My journey started with eggs – I fried up some egg whites and used some shaved manchego as a self-melting side. Yummy.
“I know you don’t use that expensive cheese for some eggs,” my wife said, sniffing it like a little manchego addict.
I settled on the omission lost in laughter and the Houdini exit. “Have a nice day baby, I have to run to work!”
And then I tried that with sautéed spinach and opinions. Yummy again. And then onto my grits and onto a burger (which I think the world should taste). Then a turkey sandwich and then a grilled cheese once, although that would be a habit nobody could afford. And of course I continue to eat it pure.
I’ve eaten it so many times that I don’t think it makes me sick anymore either. That, or it’s so good the cheese is worth the effort.
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