My childhood had all the trappings of small-town middle class. That meant ashtrays on every flat surface, the smell of Folgers coffee every morning and a block of Velveeta cheese in the refrigerator.
Any worldliness I enjoyed stopped at the city limits. Sophistication did not come rushing forward for a family with a clothesline out back.
I seek no escape from this past. In a town where residents thought the population sign fudged a little in topping 1,000, few class distinctions existed. If your dad had a pickup truck that started, you were about like everyone else.
My home abounded in love, and some kids who grew up among nannies and in houses that had sitting rooms might have traded for the modest circumstances of my adolescence.
(All right, I don’t really believe that. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can comfortably distract from unhappiness. The wealthy make do.)
Perhaps all that prelude merely justifies my continued affection for Velveeta.
There, I said it. Let the shunning begin.
Even Kraft, the corporate parent, does not regard Velveeta as cheese, instead packaging it as “cheese product.”
Smaller print on the box proclaims it “Liquid Gold,” and even a supporter finds that a stretch. No one has tried to corner the Velveeta market on any commodity exchange.
Still, at the risk of jeopardizing even middle-brow pretensions, not to mention causing arterial calamities, I find the prospect of grilling a leftover meat loaf-and-Velveeta sandwich almost too mouth-watering to continue normal human functions.
Lordy, the turmoil such a position provokes. A West Coast food blog some years back adjusted its opinion of Velveeta from “disgust and contempt” to mere dislike. The feedback to this hinted at culinary sacrilege.
“Nothing less than utter abhorrence, loathing and odium is correct,” came one reply. “You must hate Velveeta with all your might!”
Even if I wanted to, my energy level would not allow for such censure. I would need a nap between the abhorrence and odium.
These appear to be hard days for soft cheeses. News spread last week that a French chef named Marc Veyrat had sued the noted Michelin restaurant guide for reducing his La Maison des Bois from three stars to two.
At issue in the Michelin review was a cheese souffle that the Michelin folks believe contained – gasp! – a hint of cheddar.
“They dared to say that we put cheddar in our souffle of reblochon, beaufort and tomme,” Veyrat said in an interview with a French magazine. “My employees were furious.”
Furious? I was the one who had find a dictionary to look up those three words. Yes, they’re all cheeses.
Veyrat explained that the color of the souffle had been affected by the saffron added, not by any infusion of cheddar. When word came early this year about the lost star, the chef said he went into a six-month depression.
The restaurant in the Alps ski region of France has a tasting menu that runs up to $430 a person, enough to touch off in me a stint of depression.
Despite personal tastes that accommodate entrees outside the range of “chicken fried,” I sympathize with the chef’s plight, a guy having worked to get to the top of his field and toppled by a mistaken identity in an upper-end food embarrassment.
You live by cheese, you die by cheese.
It’s not like they caught him in the kitchen with a loaf of Velveeta and a box of Ritz crackers.
What the French would call le scandale, the aunts of my childhood would call a reception.