Friday, October 14, 2016

Cheese is Cheese – Erich

In order to make this post, I am going to use the power of a flashback. But I am going to use it recursively, meaning I am going to enter a flashback while in a flashback. It might be confusing, so hold on tight.

Entering flashback: Several years ago, while living in Pennsylvania, we had one of my coworkers, her husband, and her kids over for New Years. Unlike us, they were Pennsylvania born and bred. Well, as part of our appetizers that day, we brought out some cheese.

Entering flashback squared: Before we lived in Pennsylvania, we lived in Wisconsin. And one of the great things about the area we were in was the cheese. There was, about 40 minutes away, an incredible cheese making business called Hennings. You could go in the early morning and see them making cheese. Then you could buy fresh cheese curd, still warm. You could buy their aged cheddar available in multiple ages such as 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, and so on up to like 15 years. You could buy fresh colby or aged colby which tasted completely different. Alrica prefers it fresh, I prefer it aged. This led to many arguments. But that was a minor problem for such good cheese.

You can also order cheese from Hennings and they will send it to you. So while we lived in Pennsylvania, we did occasionally order cheese. But only in the winter, because if it was too warm out, the cheese wasn't so good by the time it arrived. It was partly melted.

Back to only one layer of flashback: The cheese I brought out was from Hennings in Wisconsin. And I was explaining to our guests that it was great cheese. To this, the husband of my coworker quipped, “Cheese is cheese.”

Now as a mathematician, I am a big fan of the Reflexive Property. Big fan! It states that x = x. A property of equality is that any number (or more broadly any element of the group, ring, set, etc. that we are studying) equals itself. But though my coworker was a fellow math enthusiast, her husband was not. And I don't think he was making a statement in support of the Reflexive Property. Though maybe he was a closet fan of that fine proposition, I certainly hope so.

Instead, he was stating somewhat sarcastically that no cheese was any better than any other cheese. You tasted one, you tasted 'em all.

Really? About cheese? I mean if you wanted to make the argument that Coke is Coke, I could agree. I've been in many countries now, and Coke tastes the same everywhere. Interestingly, that isn't true of all pop. For example, Fanta Orange and Mountain Dew do not have the same flavor in all countries.

But cheese? Even in one grocery store you find a couple dozen varieties of cheese, and each has its distinct flavor. Did he really believe that cheese from Wisconsin was no different than cheese from Pennsylvania? What about cheese from France? Or Greece? Or Turkey? In Turkey, they have a cheese called Beyaz Peynir that I had never seen or heard of before arriving there.

So just as one cannot, in my opinion, say cheese is cheese, one also cannot say that pizza is pizza. (No offense to the beloved Reflexive Property.) Pizza is perhaps an Italian specialty or perhaps it is truly American. But it is not the same the world over.

Did you know that seafood pizza is big! Not so much in the United States. But internationally, we see lots of places with pizza that has toppings like clams, squid, mussels, and shrimp. Hawaiian pizza with ham and pineapple is everywhere. Though in Muslim countries, the ham is either made from turkey or just missing from the pizza as they do not serve pork. Taco pizza on the other hand is something I have rarely seen outside of the U.S. (or really even outside of the Midwest.) Though I haven't tried pizza in Mexico, maybe it's big there.

This may sound unbelievable, but here in Vietnam, I may have eaten the best pizza I have ever had. I know, crazy! Who would think you have to go to Vietnam to get incredible pizza? But we enjoyed pizza at a place called Red Tomato in Ho Chi Minh City. The crust is delicious, both their thin crust (which is quite thin) and their pan crust. They do have Hawaiian Pizza, because everyone does, right? But they also have topping combinations we do not. The sauces go beyond tomato, even though that is their name. Maybe that's irony.

My point is that you may think it's all the same or even that you have had the best. But you probably haven't had the best. There could always be better out there, somewhere, even somewhere you might not expect. I didn't expect my favorite pizza to be in Vietnam. And maybe that's not even the best. There are still many pizzerias in the world I have yet to explore.

In Portugal, Alrica, Carver, and Syarra declared that they had found the best ice cream ever. In Morocco we discovered the best orange juice ever. And I would have never guessed that a 7-11 convenience store in Japan was the place to get the best corn dogs ever.

The world is a surprising place. So don't dismiss the possibility of discovering something better than you've known before. Because even though I firmly hold to the bold statement that x = x, cheese can be much more than cheese.

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