If there’s one thing that my day job has taught me, it’s that most of my opinions are deeply unpopular: the alternative vote, Ed Miliband, the European Union – I voted for all of them. I haven’t even backed a Eurovision winner since 2006.
But there’s one thing I know for certain: my least popular opinion involves cheese. I cannot stand the stuff. I know what you’re thinking: you can’t possibly dislike all cheese, can you? There must be one you haven’t tried? And you’re right about the first thing: I like mascarpone, and that’s it. You’re wrong about the second, though, because whenever you tell someone you dislike cheese, they take it as a personal affront, and do their best to prove you wrong. Cheese lovers – a group that, as far as I can tell, includes everyone in Britain except me – have given me fresh cheese, mouldy cheese, soft cheese, hard cheese. You name it, I’ve tried it.
A long time ago, I went out with a woman whose mother was convinced that I was fooling myself – that I couldn’t possibly dislike all cheese. So – I promise I am not joking – she would hide it in other meals, hoping that in the end I would pronounce it delicious.
Delia, of course, is a fully paid-up member of the cheese lobby. “What else can provide, all by itself, an instant but interesting, complete nourishing meal without any cooking?” To which I reply: “Mushrooms. Next!”
But if, like me, you have friends who love cheese who you wish to cater for and a partner who looks wistful whenever she visits houses where cheeses are freely available, or if you love the stuff and don’t know what to do with it, Delia’s introduction to cheese is the place to start, with a taxonomy and a handy guide to the strength of their flavours. Less helpful is the section on how to store cheese, which Delia has written for the occupier of a large house. I have a small flat, so our options are limited to the fridge or the boiler cupboard. After experimentation, I can confirm the boiler cupboard is not a good option.
The best way for a novice to get to grips with cheeses, Delia says, is to place them into five families: Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino … Wait, no, sorry, those are Mafia families . Delia’s cheese families are: 1) squidgy and creamy, 2) medium-soft, 3) hard and not so hard, 4) the blues and 5) goat’s cheese – which coincidentally, are also the types of Brexit that the government can choose from.
Squidgy and creamy cheeses are more accurately called soft-paste cheeses. They have floury, unwashed rinds and names that sound like the shipping forecast: camembert, Cooleeny, Emlett and Tymsboro.
Medium-soft cheeses are a little tougher, but are still soft, though their rinds are washed, and they have names that sound like perfumes: Pont l’Évêque, taleggio, livarot.
Hard and not-so-hard cheeses are kept under pressure while they curdle or ferment or whatever ungodly process it is that turns perfectly good milk into cheese. These are the cheeses with which people try to ruin pasta dishes: parmesan, pecorino romano, grana padano.
The blues is a musical style that originated with African Americans in the deep south of the US, and also cheeses injected with mould – and I am apparently the deviant for not wanting to eat this stuff – while the cheese matures.
Goat’s cheeses can be from any of the other four families, but are made with goat’s milk, funnily enough.
Delia’s tip for a good cheeseboard is to use a cheese from every family. I couldn’t stand the resulting cheeseboard, but everyone else thought it was delicious. As ever, I remain a persecuted minority.
• Stephen Bush is a writer and columnist for the New Statesman@stephenkbI
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