I thought about calling this post “I Have No Self Control.” Because as far as cheese is concerned… I don’t. I’ve recently discovered – well, let’s be precise here – I’ve recently come under the very strong suspicion that I’ve developed a light lactose intolerance. It seems pretty straightforward. I eat soft cheese, I feel slightly uncomfortable. I eat ice cream, I die.
Here’s the medically-sound way in which I diagnosed myself: I started feeling sluggish and crampy after my morning coffee and figured I’d try cutting out the milk. I started drinking my coffee black, and wonder of wonders, the cramping went away and the coffee did what it was supposed to do, i.e., wake me up. About a year after the miracle of the black coffee, I started noticing gastro-intestinal distress after eating things like ice cream and pizza or those Double Eye galãos I like to treat myself to on a Saturday morning errand run.
Clearly, after removing the daily shock of morning milk from my diet, my stomach had decided that even smaller doses of lactose were intolerable to digest, and began putting up a fight against feta and cheese toasts and whipped cream on pie. That’s how lactose intolerance works, right?
But it wasn’t until Josh and I went to Italy, where all we ate was deliciously soft mozzarella and gelato and pasta with shaved parmesan and pastries with cream that I bought some Lactase (in Italian, from an Italian-only pharmacist, so I’m not really quite-quite sure what I bought), and was surprised by how much it helped. Lactose, it seemed obvious now, really was the culprit. Lactase aside, gelato still made me die.
What I hadn’t yet done on my self-diagnostic journey, however, was to cut out lactose completely to see if the distress disappeared. Because if it didn’t, maybe it wasn’t lactose. Maybe I’m allergic to eggs. Or Vitamin B. Or air.
This week, I decided, was the start. Two weeks of no dairy. No creamy Greek yogurt to swirl with honey on my müsli, no stinky, Alpine cave-ripened cheese to slice on my toast, no butter to sizzle beneath the eggs, no sour cream to salve the blast of a jalapeño’s heat in chili.
On Monday, I had a piece of chocolate cake with buttercream icing, because I forgot that cake counted as dairy. On Tuesday, I had another piece of cake with my coffee, because, well, what’s that post-lunch coffee without a little slice of cake? On Wednesday, I got a döner with cream-based herb sauce and crumbly cheese, because a döner’s not a döner without the sauces and cheese.
And yesterday, oh yesterday, I made a grilled cheese sandwich. It was so delicious, so warm and comforting and dripping with melty Gruyère. The markets are overflowing with figs these days, so I sliced some up, fresh and cold, added prosciutto and arugula and a healthy slather of sweet mustard.
I ate it out on the balcony, my fingers growing greasy from the butter, the crunched-up toast crackling between my teeth, hot cheese dripping from the bread, burning the roof of my mouth in the most gorgeous way. And you know what? I felt awful all night, my gut grumbled and complained all the way to this morning, when I decided that today was the day I’d cut lactose out. Just to see. I’ve got two weeks to go.
Fig & Prosciutto Grilled Cheese
Grilled cheese is endlessly customizable. For me, the most important components are a slightly pungent, aromatic cheese and good bread. The rest is bonus.
2 slices good bread
Sweet, grainy mustard
2 slices Gruyère
3 slices prosciutto
½ small fig, thinly sliced (I mean, eat the rest of it…)
Small handful of arugula
Butter one slice of bread (this will be the top of the sandwich) and use the other slice as a base. Begin assembly: a healthy smear of mustard, 1 slice of Gruyère, the prosciutto, the fig slices, the arugula, and the other slice of Gruyère. Top with the buttered slice of bread, butter-side up.
Melt a small pat of butter in a skillet over medium heat. When the butter is bubbling, put your sandwich in the skillet (buttered side of the toast up). When the bottom of the toast is brown and the cheese is melty, carefully flip the sandwich, and cook until that side is golden-brown and the cheese has melted.