Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Elise Cohen, Story Teller and Cheese Maker

If you subscribe to our fabulous Moosletter, you know we are currently running an essay contest.*  We have "met" the most interesting people through this contest and Elise Cohen of Rockville, Maryland is one of them.

Elise wrote an essay which was twice as long as the limit of 500 words.  She knew we couldn't include it in the contest, but she thought we might want to read it.  We did and when you read it, you will know why we had to share it with you:

How Cheese Changed My Life
By Elise Cohen

If you're making cheese in the United States, you probably have an interest in folk and home arts.  If you've an interest in folk and home arts, you probably know some folk tales.  If you know some folk tales, you probably know some tall tales.  If you know some tall tales, you probably remember this one:

Jimmy Cheddar Fist was born that way, with a good hunk of aged cheddar in his hand.  His ma and all of in Farmhouse Falls knew he would be something special.

Well the winter Jimmy was ten years old, Farmhouse Falls was being outright terrorized by the meanest, hungriest, biggest grizzly bear anyone in town had ever seen.  The best hunters, men and womenfolk both, went out after him and came back empty-handed…or never came back.

After a few weeks of this, with his friends not allowed out to play for fear of them being eaten, and down to his last shirt and trousers what with the laundry being eaten right off the clothesline by that ornery bear, Jimmy figured it was time for him to step in and step up.

Jimmy headed towards the brush where the bear might be sniffing around for a last deer, and sure enough he found that grizzly in search of a snack.

Well, Jimmy just grabbed up that bear.  He whacked him over the head with a good hard wedge of Reggiano he happened to be carrying, and gave him such a bear-hug the grizzly knew he was licked.  He unzipped his very own bearskin and handed it over and lay right down and died.  Jimmy himself needed a snack, so he build a quick fire and roasted that bear, with just a bit of Reggiano shavings and some handy pine nuts.  He ate half of it himself, then brought the other half into town to share out.

Mighty thirsty, Jimmy broke the winter ice on the river and drank up the cool water below.  The fish were a problem, because after all that good bear meat the town folk only needed about half of what lay flopping about even though the fish deep-froze themselves right there.  The town was going to need more river water for crops, too.

Jimmy Cheddar Fist took one of the grizzly's shoulder blades as a shovel and carved a new river down the side of the icy mountains.  That gave the last fish a home and the town a better, closer river as well.

Now Jimmy figured he and Farmhouse Falls had done enough for each other.  He fetched the grizzly's rib bones, and mixed up some spit and some mud, and made himself a nice tight little boat.  The shoulder blade made a fine rudder, and with the new bearskin to wear, Jimmy stretched out his last linen shirt as a sail.  With that, off up the river went Jimmy.

Well, truth time.  You don't know that story, because I just made it up right on the spot.  Now, see, when I tell you about my own real life, mine won't seem half as implausible as it would have before, when you didn't have a good tall tale in your mind.

I'm a suburban American mom.  I live with a loving husband and six kids.  Among the kids we have diagnoses of medical, psychiatric, and developmental disabilities including (don't worry, there won't be a test, and even clinicians in one specialty have never heard of the other stuff) early onset rapid cycling bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, trichotillomania, agenesis corpus callosum, septo-optic dysplasia, eosinophilic gastroenteritis, and good old fashioned allergies, asthma, and heart burn.

I go out of my way to find tools I can use to ground myself, tools that let me just think and listen to myself.

Now I've discovered cheese making.  With a little knowledge, no common sense, and a desperate need to create in a constructive way, I can make those cheeses.  Wensleydale with cranberries, Cotswold with onions, brie, Valencay, feta, I've jumped right in to make cheeses I never new existed a few months ago.  And while I warm the milk, and gently stir the curds, and carefully ladle them into my molds, I can think to myself, I can listen to myself, I can create.  I can provide and amuse and delight.  I can feed both the whims and the stomachs of my family.  I can soothe myself knowing I'm making, doing, producing.

That's no tall tale.  That's a success story.

*Our Essay Contest
To enter, just tell us in 500 words or less how making cheese has changed your life.  The prize is a Cheese Press (E28)!  Send your essay with a picture of yourself (preferably doing something cheese-related) to  The deadline is December 1, 2013.

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