When I came up with the idea to profile a cheese snob, I did so with a distinct image of who this snob is. I kept referencing the Paul Giamatti character from the movie Sideways to my Spork friends: a know-it-all, compulsive enthusiast. The kind of person you want to have dinner with, but at separate tables. Someone whose brain you want to pick, but from a distance. These snobs, however, aren’t the kinds you want to see reformed. They’re not money snobs or gym snobs. I, for one, want to keep them around as walking, talking Zagat guides without the pressure of having to pronounce Zagat (Zaagat? Zagaat?). I thought I knew exactly what this snob would sound like, act like, and even eat like. Well, readers, when I found one in my own family, I learned that snobs are people too.
The first time I tried blueberry goat cheese was at my cousin Nikhat Qazi’s house. It was lying on a grainy board with a block of jack cheddar and a lump of Havarti next to a few plump grapes and oily Kalamata olives. The reason for this elegant spread was her apartment warming, which took place just a month after my return from my study abroad trip in Dublin. That blueberry goat cheese outshone some of the cheeses I ate at Napoli markets and Parisian crepe stands. Her party, like everything else she does, was thrown together with both precision and personality. I looked down at my cheese-filled plate and realized: this girl’s got taste.
Throughout my childhood, Nikhat didi has been called upon for every act requiring meticulousness, from slicing birthday cakes into even pieces to curling my big sister’s thick hair without burning her ears. Naturally, her scrupulousness extends to one of her greatest loves: cheese. She is always the one poached by the family when deciding between brie and gruyere for a party. Among her friends, too, she is the greatest cheese-o-phile.
“I like almost every type of cheese I try,” she told me one Sunday evening.
That didn’t sound stereotypically snobby to me. I prodded her a little. “But what is your favorite kind?”
“I like a nice white, sharp cheddar. You can never go wrong with that. But they are all great.”
Hmmm. A nice, neutral response. Informative, but not the snark I was looking for.
“Oh, so a really fancy, expensive cheddar? The kind you can only find at a specialty shop, right,” I asked her, hoping for something a bit more divisive.
“The Whole Foods cheese market is probably the best, but Trader Joe’s is good too, and more affordable. Honestly, the grocery store can have some great cheeses.”
Surely, I had chosen the right woman to interview. With her broad range of cheese expertise (she’s had delectable fried goat cheese in Spain and amazing feta in Turkey) and penchant for quality, she had to be a snob.
“But, you must really hate people who eat Polly-O Cheese Sticks and Kraft Singles,” I stated boldly, trying to egg her on.
“No, I don’t hate them. They make good snacks.” Then she pauses and says, “I don’t know if I’m a snob, but most meals are better with variety. Different textures, colors, spice levels. All of these things matter.”
Aha! Finally. Some snob-talk. I heard “textures” and “spice levels” and thought I’d finally opened Pandora’s box.
“The reason I love cheese is because almost every culture has some type of cheese. There are so many varieties.”
Nikhat didi, a completely unsnobby cheese snob, loves cheese because it’s enjoyed by people everywhere? Because rather than being truly appreciated by just a few people, it is devoured all around the world?
“Yes, cheese is a universal thing. And, you can find really good cheese in America!”
And then, by the end of her interview, I realized something. Maybe the nature of cheese is to spread love, both on bread and in hearts. Maybe this creamy treat doesn’t lend itself to the singular attitudes of other snobs. Maybe cheese isn’t always great, but it is always good. And maybe cheese snobs are the kinds of people who want to share their cheesy delight with other hungry people.
“Hey, you know what,” Nikhat didi adds before I hang up, “I have a block of buffalo mozzarella in the fridge if you want me to bring some over.”
Why, how generous of you. I’d love some.
Post and Photo by Nandini Ahuja.