The conversation went something like this:
Me: “So… if there was something that might make you never eat cheese again, would you want to know about it, or would you rather remain blissfully ignorant?”
Husband, without a pause: “Blissfully ignorant.”
Those of you who feel the same might want to stop reading right here. For the rest of you…
Those tasty little cheeses at the market are absolutely covered in bugs.
To be clear, I’m not talking here about microbes or mold, though cheese certainly has its share of both. No, I’m talking about hundreds of little critters that look like a cross between albino aphids and tiny, bloated crabs. And like crabs, they scuttle, climbing out of mold-filled valleys and racing across the surface of the cheese rind.
They’re small enough to avoid casual notice but definitely visible if you’re looking for them. Particularly if they’re active.
I made this discovery while trying to capture the developing rind on two cheeses: one younger, one more mature. The vendor sold them at a range of ages, lined up in a gradient of color and texture: fresh rounds still in their whey, soft and white and plump; firmer, lightly aged ones whose surfaces had developed a dusting of mold and a bit of texture; all the way through the most mature cheeses, hard and shrunken, orange skins covered with blue and white molds and beige grains that I initially took for another kind of mold.
Until I looked at my camera’s viewscreen, where the macro view had been further magnified for fine focus control, and I saw the beige grains were moving. Further inspection showed tiny legs, pinprick eyes, larger bugs carrying smaller ones from one mold patch to another.
This sort of thing is one of the hazards of using a macro lens. Sure, they let you capture incredible detail. But sometimes I’ll be sitting there, happily photographing my lunch, and I’ll lean in to catch some detail, bring it into focus… and suddenly there’s a horrible monster staring up at me, magnified to terrifying proportions. Often it’s just a lone aphid or fruit fly that survived the salad spinner, but once in a while there’s a whole society nestled in there.
The worst part is, I’ve usually been nibbling on whatever portion wasn’t photogenic enough to put on the plate.
For those of you who are wondering: No, as amusing as it would have been, I didn’t just serve M. the cheese and let him eat the bugs in blissful ignorance. I took the cheese in the other room and quietly trimmed off the rind.
I haven’t had a chance to ask any locals if that’s typical, or if less-squeamish consumers just eat the whole thing, bugs and all. Based on how many vendors at the markets seem to have these little hitchhikers on at least a few of their cheese varieties, I’m pretty sure they’re safe. They might even be to thank for the deliciousness of the cheese — maybe they tend the beneficial molds while keeping bad ones in check, or help to oxygenate the cheese and promote delicious bacterial activity.
And yes, I ate some of the (trimmed) cheese myself. I know a few tiny bugs probably got past me, but let’s face it: there are bugs in all sorts of food; some alive, some dead. That goes whether you eat organics from the bulk bin or food-like snacks that have been industrially processed, individually packed, and sealed for freshness. I can deal with the knowledge that they’re a part of my diet — just as long as they’re not staring at me from the end of my fork.