The limburger sandwiches that Marilyn served weren’t as stinky as I remembered them to be. I actually was hoping she would have slathered the bread a bit more thickly with the spreadable cheese; I was tasting more rye bread than limburger. These sandwiches were a throwback to my youth when my folks would join these dear friends for cards, conversation, laughter and finger food. To repay her generosity and to expand upon their small-town selection of comestibles I thought that the next time I went home to visit I’d take an array of similarly odorous cheeses to share. I would be visiting my folks the week before Halloween and the days leading up to that jaunt to the other side of the State were to be spent in New York City. Perfect, I thought. Just before I leave the City, I’ll stop at a shop and chat it up with the cheesemonger.
My bus wasn’t leaving until early afternoon on that Friday and I had the morning to kill. I couldn’t think of anything more pleasant than to amble down the west side of Manhattan taking in the sights, sounds and smells of NYC. I knew Zabar’s was along the route and that’s where I headed. I stopped at the cheese counter and took a number. I asked for stinky cheeses. The young woman just looked at me. This must have been the first time that anyone had specifically asked her for fetid cheese. She turned to her coworker and quietly asked for assistance. At least I think it was for assistance, it was in Spanish. Within a few minutes I had sampled and agreed to purchase six different malodorous cheeses from a sizable bloc of Europe. In a few days I’d be sharing the tastes of several small, artisanal dairies of Northern Switzerland, Bavaria, Eastern Prussia, Italy, as well as from the Trappist monks of Belgium and one from a small eclectic farm in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. I began planning the presentation in my head. I’d arrange the cheeses just so with little tent cards with their names and regions of origin. Perhaps I’d include a drawing of the flags of the distant lands they represented. No, too cheesy, I thought. I wasn’t sure what the old flag of Eastern Prussia looked like anyway. This was world class fromage we were talking about, aged and reeking. My dad would eat this up.
Being a Friday afternoon the bus was going to be crowded. To be courteous I took my bags off the seat next to me and placed them on the floor between my legs. At the last minute a pretty, young blond woman raced to the bus and the seat next to me seemed to be the only one available. She sat down, tossed a tepid smile in my general direction and held her backpack close to her.
We soon crossed under the Hudson River and entered New Jersey. I noticed her inch ever so slightly away from me. I didn’t pay much attention to it, just made a mental note. By the time we were nearing Woodbury, an hour and a half outside New York City, she sidled a little further away. When we got closer to Poughkeepsie I glanced toward her and saw her face somewhat pinched, nose flaring, eyes wincing. This time I was the one to shift a bit and the Zabar’s bag slipped to the floor. The cheeses had reached room temperature and their peak fragrant ripeness. They were in full bloom: Limburger, Taleggio, Tilsit, Grayson, Le Poteaupre, Scharfer Maxx emanating through the triple layers of plastic wrap and bags that encased them. Apparently this young woman didn’t appreciate good cheese.
We approached Albany, stopping first across the river in Rensselaer to discharge half the passengers. We were only ten minutes from the final stop and the poor girl couldn’t wait to bolt to a newly vacant seat across the aisle and several seats upwind from me.
Once in Albany I shoved the bag of cheeses in the refrigerator for the overnight hours. I’d be leaving early in the morning to drive across state to share this gift of cheese with family and friends. First thing Saturday, I’m off and on the road headed west. A half hour outside of Albany I remembered the bag, left in the fridge. It was too late to turn back. I’m hoping these cheeses will keep until I can head west again in a few weeks. But really, how will I know? Not by the smell.