Making cheese is a lot like writing. It’s more fun if you don’t have to be in control. Of course, if you’re trying to turn out a predictable product for an admiring public, it may be better to stick to a formula.
But those of us who have never been in any danger of making a living from writing (or cheese-making) are free to flirt with the unexpected. Making cheese, you keep your surfaces clean but there’s no need to sterilize or pasteurise if the milk comes fresh and warm from the barn. You want the invisible partners to join the dance as the milk sets and curd separates from whey.
Some members of the microbiome prefer a moist surface or a salty one; others need crevices in the curd. Proportions matter: a flat disc attracts one kind of penicillin, another prefers a drum. Bacterium linens likes a brick. This is the microbe that creates the great, glorious, redolent cheeses from Pont L’Eveque to Limberger to Stinking Bishop. All grow a sticky, pinkish-orange coat, all smell of sweaty socks. There’s a reason for this. B. linens lives in the damper, saltier nooks of our bodies, between fingers and toes for example.
Like writing, then, it flourishes in private places.
If nothing is ever pure or preserved but always becoming, the art is in tilting that process towards deliciousness.
Raw experience, like raw curd, can be delightful in its very freshness. There are moments so glorious we’d wish an eternity – but in the thought itself is the demise of the perfect present.
Fermentation is the great tool nature proposes to transform the swift present – of fruit, of milk, of experience – into something slow and rich.
Imagination is the cave where life turns into art. Different forms invite different transformations. Myself, I like the weighty round of the novel though it takes years to ripen, but a haiku or a sonnet or a hip-hop song, each has its particular savour. Each engages with the invisible.