In his latest book, “Cooked,” the New York Times-appointed “liberal foodie intellectual” Michael Pollan explores the sexuality of cheese. While he is not the first to take this course of inquiry—Aristotle examined the concept in the fourth century by comparing human conception to the curdling of milk into cheese—Pollan elucidates the many similarities between humans and cheese. But despite this scholarly work, American culture seems limited in its ability to appreciate this food in all of its beautiful and diverse glory.
While America is known primarily for overly-processed golden-hued cheeses such as American or Cheddar, the world of cheese exists largely beyond North America, with the best cheeses hailing from western Europe. Why is the American market uncompetitive when it comes to all this delightful dairy? Many of the cheeses found in Europe are raw, and because the United States Food and Drug Administration considers soft cheese made from raw milk unsafe, they are prohibited in the United States. This is fascinating considering that the FDA permits arsenic in poultry feed.
Even Camembert, one of my greatest pleasures, has fallen to this plot of evil. As Pollan explains, there is only one justification for this: the distinctly American fear of sexuality. He writes:
“Frenchmen regard America’s uneasiness with raw-milk cheese (which tend to be more odiferous than cheese made from pasteurized milk) as further proof of our Puritanism in carnal matters. Pierre Boisard, a French sociologist, celebrates a raw-milk Camembert as ‘a living substance produced by an animal organism, [that] constantly reminds us of the body, of sexual fulfillment, and of all that is forbidden in it.”
While it is widely accepted that our government has a strong desire to control the sexuality and reproductive choices of women, let us mull over the idea that this fear of sexuality—rawness, in essence—dictates what we eat as well.
There is one particular establishment, however, that recognizes the philosophical and physical need for cheese: Heywood Grilled Cheese in Silver Lake. Named after John Heywood, a poet who wrote this ode to cheese in 1562, the shop boasts an extensive menu of artisan grilled cheeses as well as the option to “Build Your Own” for those of us who cannot choose between braised short ribs and triple-crème brie.
A personal favorite is the heathen Peking Pig, which includes French comte with crispy prosciutto and maple bacon between two slices of brioche, as well as the Holy Grail: smoked gouda with slow braised short rib and kimchee on freshly-baked brioche bread.
Every item on Heywood’s menu is under $15 and comes with a cup of tomato soup and salad, making it an ideal spot for college eats. Whether your passion lies with flesh or fontina, Heywood has much to offer for the average cheese-lover.
Dream a little dream of cheese,