The cheese department and the produce department get along well at our store. For the last 13 years we’ve shared a backstock cooler, route questions to each other, and have happily coexisted on the south side of the store. The only time this peace is ruptured is when we cut a particularly stinky piece of cheese.
I’m not talking an every day stinky cheese, or a small, washed rind cheese that goes from box to counter in five minutes. No, I’m talking about problems, projects, and Alpine cheeses with super sticky washed rinds.
I’m not going to mention the name of the cheese that caused the problems last Saturday. I don’t need to be corrected with any “I don’t think it smells that bad”s or, worse yet have the cheesemaker or importer give me a hard time. The fact is, once it’s cut down the rind to cheese ratio makes it much less intense so most customers would never notice the way it smells when it first comes out of the cooler and gets unwrapped.
On Saturday however, people noticed. It was one of those days that we were so swamped with customers that our production slowed to a standstill, letting the smell of this little “mini-Gruyere” really get out into the atmosphere. Shoppers were wrinkling their noses. Children were asking their parents, “What’s that smell?” The produce workers were complaining.
One by one they came over to our area and asked, “What is that?” I assured them that it was cheese and that it was ok, but they were cutting me with their eyes every time they passed. One finally said, “Are you almost done with that? I’m feeling my gorge rise!”
Even after it was wrapped and put on the shelf, its smell lingered. Even an hour later my favorite vegan co-worker walked by and she noticed. Head on a swivel, she looked around the store. Then she started moving boxes around and looking under produce displays. I went over to her to let her know everything was ok.
Before I could speak she whispered, “I smell a dead rat.”
“It’s just cheese,” I said.
“No, that’s dead rat. I know.”
I walked her over to the compost and pulled out the paper that had once held our smelly Alpine friend. I held it up to her face.
“UGH! Ack!” Then she looked at me with all her vegan wrath and said, “What is wrong with you people?”