I’m just back from several days in Wisconsin. The reason for the trip was a sad one–my grandmother’s funeral. But it was a good trip. Good to honor my grandmother’s long and fruitful life, and good to be with my large extended family.
You hear a lot about terroir in reference to food products such as tea, wine, or chocolate–that special combination of geography, soil, and climate in a local environment that affects the production of a product, giving it a unique taste.
Naturally enough, I’ve been thinking about my own terroir–the place of origin that has shaped me and given me my own unique flavor. It’s been a long time since I’ve been home, to gentle rolling fields of snow-dusted corn stubble crisscrossed by snowmobile tracks, the winter-muted scents of dairy barns, and the calm mid-western good sense of aunts and uncles and cousins who work hard and enjoy life as it comes. But no matter how long I’m away, that is my place, where I touch the ground and gain strength from it.
Whenever I’m in Wisconsin, I eat cheese curds by the bagful. They are everywhere–bags sitting in heaps on the checkout counter of the grocery store and the gas station, which is helpful when you’re in a pinch, with a late night craving. Much better is to stop at one of the ubiquitous cheese factories and buy them really fresh–ideally only a few hours old, still damp and milky, salty and squeaky between the teeth.
Curds, of course, are the beginning stages of cheese. Rennet is added to milk, it curdles, the whey is strained out, and you’ve got curds. Press these into blocks and age them and you’ve got cheese.
My sissy and I pulled open our first bag of them in the car and ate them while driving. We continued with bedtime snacks of curds. I brought home more bags of them in my luggage, freshly bought at the cheese factory on the way to the airport, and continued to indulge in the taste of home for as long as they lasted.
I don’t buy curds much here in Seattle. Not when they appear at the grocery store (heaven forbid) with a good-through date stamped on them that is several weeks in the future. Not even when they are freshly made at Beecher’s near Pike Place Market. They aren’t the same, not the same at all. Maybe it’s the terroir.
The taste of home is different for everyone. What is yours?