I hate cheese but love cheddar.
The former is coagulated milk, available in some 1,800 varieties. The latter is still cheese, but also slang for money.
I didn’t know about the second meaning of cheddar until recently, when I saw a commercial for a car-buying service with “cheddar” in the name. You’ve probably seen that commercial too.
Turns out, cheddar’s association with money dates back to the middle of the 20th century.
Welfare recipients often received cheese as part of their government allowance, so the dairy product and the financial package became intertwined in the public’s mind.
Truth be told, you could make a decent meal from all the foods associated with money. Dough, bread and bacon are well known. Less common are lettuce, salad and chips. If you want to build a meal from scratch with all these money-related foods — well, “scratch” is also slang for money.
As I said up top, I adore cheddar/currency but hate spending it on food with cheese. Yet avoiding cheese has been a lifelong challenge, in restaurants and at home.
For one thing, everybody in my family has an abiding, passionate, tongue-kiss relationship with cheese. If Aunt Ida — not her real name — invited me to dinner as a kid, four of the five meal items contained cheese. And not just sprinkled on top, but baked into the foods’ very DNA, impossible to scrape, wash or chisel away.
If Aunt Petunia — not her real name, but geez, I wish it were — brought a dish to our house, it would similarly be layered with cheese. Worse, out of deference to her visit, Mom would fold cheese into foods where she usually didn’t — the mashed potatoes or the meatloaf.
Houdini would be proud of the sleight of hand I performed to get the gouda, asiago or brie off my plate and into the dog’s mouth without anybody being the wiser. If the various Schillig pups gained extra pounds from all that dairy, it was a secret they took with them to the pet cemetery.
Being a cheese-avoider means always having to defend your palette to more refined diners. “You don’t like CHEESE?” they ask, with a bulging of the eyes and sucking in of the cheeks, until the aghast face looks like a shrunken apple. The voice always rises on the word “cheese,” as though sheer screeching can drive out the dislike, much like holy water exorcising a demon.
As an adult, I’ve learned to go along to get along, so I often tolerate cheese. As it turns out, I even like it in some instances — on pizza, for example.
But I still despise it on hamburgers, where it is especially hard to avoid. It is said the human mind cannot accept a negative (try not to think of the color red right now). The observation is especially true of fast-food employees and burgers.
Go through any drive-thru, specify “no cheese” and be prepared for the World War II-era intercom to fizzle on the word “no,” leaving the employee on the other end certain that you said “cheese.” Even if they hear the “no,” they disregard it, certain that everybody loves cheese, so strong is the curdled-milk fetish in America.
I’ve tried ordering lots of ways. “Please do not include cheese.” “Cheese is something I do not want.” “I do not like cheese, Sam-I-Am.” Still, l find the yellow goo stuck to the inside of the bun and the patty more often than not.
When it happens, I handle it maturely, like the 50-plus-year-old that I am. I throw a tantrum, pout and ask for the manager.
Not really. I’m not a Karen.
Instead, I just eat the silly thing, all the while thinking of my happy place — a tropical beach, located next to a library, with bountiful buffets filled with every type of food imaginable. Except one.
Betcha can’t guess which.
Never mind. I don’t have enough cheddar to pay up anyway.
Reach Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @cschillig
This article originally appeared on The Alliance Review: Chris Schillig: Cheesy slang is better than cheese itself