It was a gift that only one old friend should give to another: a half wheel of Stiltonbrought with the carry-on luggage from Heathrow to Montrealwarmed to room temperature and sitting in magnificent blue-veined semi-putrescense, on the dining room table.
This was not a cheese for children. It was a cheese for those of us who appreciate that ripeness and maturity are things to which we should aspire. Later, a large crusted wedge of this regal mold was brought home. We served it with homemade walnut-sourdough bread and a 25 year old bottle of port.
Old things, old flavours. The sourdough had fermented until its inherent yeasts developed a strong winy smell. The walnuts were culled from trees that may have taken so long to grow that the person who planted them died before tasting their fruit.
The port had survived being deposited in a basement with seasonal temperatures that unfortunately approximated whatever weather was happening outside. When we opened the bottle, its liquor had a thin purplish cast and the wine tasted insipid and almost bitter. We blamed ourselves. We had stored it poorly and waited too long to drink it. It was too old but we couldnt bring ourselves to throw it out, not yet. We left it, opened, in a corner of the kitchen for several hours while we made dinner.
Later, after our child was asleep, we unwrapped the Stilton, took the bread from the oven and tried the port again. It was magnificent. It had recovered, as only old things do sometimes. Given time to wake up, it had a surprising strength and rich berry flavours. It wrapped around the tongue like velvet. For a long time, we did nothing else but sip port, savour aged Stilton, and take small bites of walnut bread.
The expression says youth is wasted on the young. Well, so is age. Old flavours are complex. They require patience and prudence. A cheese this strong could clear out a crowded bus in minutes. Old foods must be approached with a willingness to compromise and to set aside the time to enjoy them. They will not be rushed and we are the better for it.