I’ve become obsessed with my family tree. I guess that’s what happens when one branch of it, the sturdy branch below me, breaks off, drops down while disappearing into thin air, leaving only traces of DNA in my brothers and me.
But why am I telling you this?
In many ways, cheese has been a constant presence, my world turner. Those reasonably-priced Velveeta cheese bricks in aluminum foil when times were tight. The lasagna my grandma GG made fancy when she added in cottage cheese. The first time I had sheep’s milk cheese, in graduate school, on a date with a serial cheater. When I let the truffle tremor melt in my mouth, while sitting and staring at the golden gate bridge, knowing I had found a new home. The career change I contemplated, still am, forever will be, thinking about the goat farm in southern Illinois that is begging to be birthed, the goats I had next door growing up helping break me in to what a life with a herd of odd little animals with horizontal pupils and cocked heads could be like, the raw milk I could drink daily. All those niche San Francisco cheese classes I’ve taken, 12 cheeses a class times ten classes is at least 120 unique cheeses. So much cheese, so little time. The solid dinners I’ve assembled on weeknights of a special aged gouda, apple slices and almonds. I’ve been on cheese tours and to cheese festivals and have smuggled cheese back from every animal – camel, yak, cow, sheep, goat – and every corner of the world every chance I could get, dodging US Customs and Border Patrol and their sniffing beagles near the luggage carousels. I dream about cheese.
So back to my family tree. You can understand the jolt that shimmered through my body, not once but twice, when I identified my great great grandma’s last name was Kaeseman. German for cheese man.
And then when I learned my great grandpa Calcari was a sheep herder in the Dolomites, in those rich Calcareous hills, before running away to America. His consistent snack – from stories passed down – was a wheel of hardened sheep’s milk cheese to keep him warm in the chilly alpine mornings.
I can sit here, dreaming about this family tree, trying to make meaning of it, like those tributaries of tree branches are pointing one direction, gently guiding me to my destiny, a marriage with cheese.
I think perhaps the knowing is simply enough, as long as it comes with an incredible cheese plate.