Yesterday HH and I visited our local cheese monger. He was riding in the back-facing seat of the shopping cart as we wheeled through the store and was excited at the prospect of trying something new. HH has never been a big cheese lover. His cheese of choice is macaroni and cheese and after what feels like a thousand doses of the stuff – which I usually share with him during our weekend lunches – I thought it was time to explore some different options.
HH has reached a point in his life where he needs space – he needs to feel in control of what he eats and wears, the circumstances of his playtime and the noise level he produces in the apartment. Each of these things is a potential source of conflict and it is my job to either anticipate or diffuse them when they show their head. The selection and variety of the foods he eats is an important source of conflict – important from a nutritional POV and also as a factor in HH’s feeling of self-determination. I try to include him in as much of the day-to-day cooking as I can – some things are still too dangerous for him to tackle, for example chopping and frying. He is a very enthusiastic little boy and his fast-moving and inexperienced hands are capable of tossing all kinds of things off the counter or onto a burner or into hot oil. That said, we make many of our meals together, like pancakes from scratch, French toast, mushroom soup, hot oatmeal with walnuts, cakes and cookies and just about anything that requires stirring – he’s very good at stirring.
Cheese seemed to me a good place to allow HH more creativity and control over his diet. Cheese is a good source of protein and there are thousands of different kinds of cheeses here in Europe to explore. I got the idea a few weeks ago while preparing breakfast. The only cheese he would eat, expect for the cheese sauce on his macaroni, was young Gouda, which is pretty bland. The curious thing is that he would only eat cheese that came in a wheel – he wouldn’t touch the prepackaged cheese slices that Germans often use for breakfast or sandwiches. I started talking to him about the cheese monger I had known back in New York. His name was Steve Jenkins and he worked at Fairway, a grocery store on the upper West Side of Manhattan. It used to be a fairly modest store of one level with loads of fresh produce, coffee, a deli counter and a really good selection of cheese. Today it is huge – and if you find yourself in Manhattan it’s worth a visit just to see their selection. But back in the early 80’s Steve Jenkins was something of a pioneer in the world of cheese. He introduced New Yorkers to artisanal cheeses from all over the world, and I was lucky to be one of his early customers, when he was just getting started.
I looked forward to visiting Steve on Saturday mornings to see what new and wonderful cheese he had brought back with him from Spain or Italy or France. He instilled in me an informed appreciation for cheese and in the process changed the way I looked at food in general. I had something of the same order in mind with HH when I brought up the idea of him visiting our local cheese monger and tasting a few different cheeses each week and then deciding for himself which we would buy and bring home. I shouldn’t have been surprised at his reaction but I was. Our first visit was modest; the cheese monger offered him some “kinder” cheeses. He rejected one and selected one. She also offered him a slightly aged Gouda – something not so strange to him, just a bit stronger than his customary cheese. He liked it and so we came home with two new cheeses. During the course of the week he ate one bite of the kinder cheese and the entire chunk of the aged Gouda.
Yesterday he couldn’t wait to get back to the cheese counter; he was fidgeting in his seat all the way. When the cheese monger asked him if he wanted to taste any of the mild kinder cheeses he was quick to say no so we moved on to something very new – Sheep’s milk cheese. We tasted three cheeses, two from Italy and one from Corsica. He loved them all and with a wide sweep of his hand he confidently told the salesperson that we would take all three. I edited his choices down to two – one of the Italian cheeses and the Corsican. He will be waking in just a few moments, the sun has risen and I expect to hear the sound of his feet in the hallway at any minute. I wonder what he will want for breakfast? Cheese anyone?