Everyone knows the stereotypes about French people: berets, butter, cheese, and wine. While I don’t wear a beret, the rest isn’t that far off. There are few places in the world I would rather be than next to a cheese and charcuterie board holding a good glass of wine. One notable exception would be holding a cup of coffee about to tear into a cheese pie. While not traditionally a fan of sweets (save chocolate), the depth of my affection for cheese pie is such that most of my friends know of and have tried my grandma’s handiwork. When he contacted me, Peter didn’t ask me to write about food. Instead, he specifically asked me to write about cheese pie, and I am only too happy to oblige.
Please note that I said “cheese pie” and not “cheese cake.” Cheese pie, while a dessert, is not some overly sweet mush that is topped with more sweet mush and wrapped in crushed, sweet crackers. It is balanced: sweet, tart, fatty, bready, and sturdy. It is an uncomplicated dish that is, essentially, a creamy pie filling in a standard pie crust. Importantly, it is never, never topped with anything; to do so would be sacrilege. It’s not beautiful like the cases of Les Chocolats Alain Ducasse. It’s beautiful like an ugly loaf of homemade sourdough. When served with a cup of black coffee, I can imagine few things more sublime.
As others have pointed out, food is always more than just food. It is about the context of its consumption, the feelings it evokes, and the history surrounding it. When I eat a piece of cheese pie, I can hear my grandma banging around her kitchen and cursing under her breath in French; I can smell the pie baking as she tells me in broken English that she wishes my grandpa would’ve grown a beard; I can see her rare, slight smile as I take the first bite. While I am passionate about a great many foods, beverages, and ingredients, there is something special about cheese pie. This simple dessert is a connection between us, unbound by time or distance. It is familiar – omnipresent at family meals – but we cherish it. I could go for a slice right now, but no one makes it like Grandma. C’est la vie- pass the wine.