Saturday, March 24, 2007

Smelly Cheese

Why do I even raise this matter, dear readers? Well, back in the early ‘70s, I spent a while working with IBM in the Southern France. We were working on getting network connections to work faster than 2400 bps on a phone line. We are talking ‘slow‘here by today’s standards, but in those days, it was unbelievable!

Those were the days – flared trousers (pants), jackets with wide lapels, platform boots, and shoulder length hair. I was employed by a well known UK bank at the time, and I recall having to go to a ‘training’ school. Despite the fact that I was in IT, as part of my ‘career progression’ I had to take a class in Accounting. For a week. For a week. We all stayed at an old English country house near Oxford. I once overheard the course leader stating to someone that I was from the IT Department, and that this explained my appearance. To this day, my knowledge of accounting amounts to this: do I have enough money to buy another beer?

I digress, back to the communications.

The upshot is that we failed to up the communications speed higher than 2400 bps, but being in the south of France, I learnt a lot about cheese, and it did give me a chance to appreciate some ’really good cheese’. The kind that makes your tongue curl.

Enter Vieux Boulogne fromage.

Although from Northern France, it was de rigueur to have it in places like Nice, and Cannes in the South. It is a soft cheese (like brie) which was voted the smelliest cheese in the world some time back. For those who do not understand the French language, it means ‘Old Boulogne’. And ‘old’ it certainly is! Even according to the BBC (which cannot be challenged, naturally), it is the world’s smelliest cheese.

Back to the plot. I was going home to London for a week or two, and managed to buy a pound of this stuff. Traveling in the taxi to the airport at Nice should have been a warning. The driver thought I was some kind of terrorist. But in the 1970s, those folks were few and far between.

As I was one of the last to board the plane, there was no room for my hand luggage in the overhead locker. This is always a pet peeve, how come some idiot gets to bring half his closet with him on a plane, and then fills up three overhead lockers?

I digress again.

I got some pretty weird looks on the plane. The stewardess finally plucked up the courage to ask what the smell was, and I explained about the cheese. She found two plastic bags, but this didn’t really help. At least the customs people didn’t stop me. I suspect the smell put them off.

After getting home, my wife was not amused to have this smell about the house. I ate some of it, but it really is a very strong cheese, and leaves one thinking that the roof of your mouth has been blown off. She declared that either the cheese goes, or I go. I made the wrong choice. I decided to give it to my friend Roy – a regular at the local bar. He was over the moon about it! He was like a kid with a new toy. The other patrons of the bar did not agree, but we did soon have the place to ourselves.

The following day, I saw him, and he was not pleased. His mother had woken in the middle of the night to a bad smell, and realizing it came from the refrigerator, had put the cheese onto the rubbish tip at the bottom of their garden – some 100 feet away from the house. Roy told me he could still smell it several days later, in both the garden and the house.

So if you ever get the chance to taste some Vieux Boulogne, please do so. You will never forget either the taste or the smell!