A Matter of Taste

Laurie got offended that I used the word puke. But to me, that's what her dinner tasted like.

-- Jack Handy

Last week, David received a package FedExed overnight from New York. Curious about a possible gift for me, I hovered over him as he sliced open the box with a razor. When he cut through the space-aged, climate-control wrapping, I nearly passed out from the stench of what smelled like a combination of sweaty sneakers and vomit.

"The cheese has arrived!" David declared. "We need to act quickly, there's no time! This cheese is at its peak of perfection!" I gazed into the box at the source of my sudden nausea. Five small hunks -- the first of four cheese installments David ordered through the Rosengarten Report -- stared back. David Rosengarten is a food expert, and my David subscribes to his newsletter.

Rosengarten and a team of experts aged a selection of cheeses with the precision and care of J. Lo's handler. Every hour, according to their individual needs, the cheeses were brushed with salt, spritzed with grappa (an Italian brandy made from grape skins), patted down, and rubbed with oil. We rushed to the store for cheese accessories -- wine for pairing, fruit for nibbling, necessary crackers, and baguettes from Bread & Cie. Our final stop was Whole Foods, where we procured the same types of cheese under the assumption that the Whole Foods cheese had not undergone the rigorous East Coast training program. This cheese would be placed next to its pampered counterpart for comparison.

When we returned home, David grabbed the landline, I grabbed my cell, and we began dialing. I called Grace (who hates cheese) because she'd enjoy the wine while her husband Ben sampled the flavored curd. David was on the line with his friend Jamie when I made contact with Kip. "Kip, we have a cheese emergency! Can we count on you?" He didn't even ask for an explanation before confirming himself and Renee. There was no need to call Ollie -- he was sitting in the chair next to David. We tried to limit the number of people for the emergency cheese fest, for this was the beta test of what is to be a total of four parties (one for each of the monthly cheese installments).

Finished with his calls, David labeled the cheeses with the little plastic cards that came with the package. I decided the outfit I was wearing -- black velvet pants and a pink sweater with a pink rabbit-fur collar -- would suit the occasion just fine. While David designed the spread, I went hunting to find and light the candles he'd placed around our home. Ollie "helped" by following me around and blowing out each candle as I lit it. "Stop it!" I'd light another one. Ffoooof, out it would go. "STOP IT!" I'd light another one. Ffooof, out it would go. Our argument came to a halt when we had pushed our way into the kitchen, wrestling over the long, red click-stick lighter.

"Would you two..." David snapped, yanking the lighter away from us.

Tea lights in small glass containers lined the wooden staircase. I found more candles by the windows, in the bathroom, and throughout the kitchen and living room areas. Cheese biographies were spread around. These information sheets, as thorough and specific as the information one might receive upon "adopting" an Ethiopian child for a dollar a day, had also come in the package.

David poured wine for friends as they arrived. "You're going to try the Stilton? Here's a glass of port. Goat cheese for you, Ben? Try the Sancerre; I think you'll appreciate the combination." I stuck with Stilton, a kind of sharp blue cheese. After a bite of the Stilton we had gotten at Whole Foods, I understood the importance of aging: there was no comparison; Rosengarten's Stilton was divine. Moans of appreciation escaped the mouths of our guests. As the wine and cheese flowed, I found myself relaxing for the first time in over a month.

David, my beloved food snob, has been trying to broaden my taste-bud horizons ever since our second date; he refuses to accept that it is possible for someone to be content with a limited experience in any facet of life. For this I love him, but as one who is quite happy with her tastes, I admit that his pushing for me to have the same zest for food exploration as he does can sometimes get annoying.

David was happy to see me enjoying the fancy tastes, but he noticed I hadn't touched either of the two stinky cheeses.

"Come on, just a bite," David prodded.

"Absolutely not. That smelly crap is going nowhere near my nose, let alone my mouth," I said.

"You might like it."

"Highly doubtable." A few heads nodded in agreement with me.

"You won't like it, Barb," Stephanie said from behind David. "You should stick with the Stilton."

David's frustration was evident. Gesturing toward the runny, repugnant, and offensive comestible, he said, "What if you tried this and you really liked it? It might be your new favorite food!"

"No way." I was steadfast in my conviction that if it smells bad, it will taste bad -- something I'd learned years earlier when Stephanie insisted I try kimchi, a Korean dish prepared by seasoning cabbage and burying it in a hole where it is allowed to rot until it's ready to be dug up for serving. I brought this up in my defense, but David, a kimchi eater, stood his ground.

Trying a new tactic, he said, "It's too boring to eat the same thing all the time. Would you watch the same movie over and over?"

"I have."

"Yes, but would you watch only one movie for the rest of your life?"

"My food intake is not limited to one movie," I said, following his analogy. "Let's say a chicken dish is like a chick flick. You can serve chicken a thousand different ways, but in the end, I know I'm getting chicken, and I know that I like chicken. In a chick flick there's going to be conflict and maybe I'll cry, but in the end, I know the girl will get the guy. Beef could be action flicks -- the hero always wins. See where I'm going with this?"

Our friend Jen chimed in, adding, "Kimchi is subtitled!"

Still stating my case to David, I said, "You refuse to watch horror movies. How do you know there's not one that you'll love? Hmm?" I had him there. "Not wanting to try food I'm convinced I'll spit out is like you not wanting to watch a movie you're convinced will scare you and give you nightmares. I'll eat that cheese if we can go rent a horror movie."

Laughing, David said, "Fine, you win this time. But remember, you promised me that you'll try wild boar when we get to Venice."

"I may have to renege on that," I teased. "Unless, of course, you can assure me that there will be chicken nearby in case of an emergency. Now, how about some more of that port?"

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