Whilst shuffling through the Christmas crowds at Tesco last week, trying to find things like cornflour and cinnamon, things we never normally buy and have no idea what people actually use them for, we happened across something very interesting.
Cheese of every shape and variety had been wrapped in clingfilm, hastily labelled and slung onto a display counter. There was no rhyme or reason or sense of order. You simply reached over and pulled out a mystery chunk of the stuff. We ended up with four: applewood, white stilton with apricots, cheddar with pickled onion and chives, and *shudders* brie.
Our spirits suddenly rose as we pictured consuming these four atop a selection of crackers, alongside a nice bottle of port, in front of a roaring storage heater. Basically we created a scene from Withnail and I without the pepetual damp, pervy uncle or drug induced paranoia.
So why is it that as I sit here, feeling like a puff pastry mince pie, craving nothing more stimulating than a bottle of mineral water and Cocoon, why is is that the four cheeses sit untouched in our fridge?
We thought we might crack them open on Christmas Eve, on our return from the pub. But of course, in that grand tradition of backward planners everywhere, we didn't manage to eat anything beforehand. So after a few ales, waiting until we got home to eat seemed like an unbearable prospect, and we ended up in the same Chinese we used to frequent aged 25, when a night of cheap beer and even cheaper dance moves needed dousing with greasy, dishwater noodles and beating into submission with a pancake roll. How very festive.
Never mind, we consoled ourselves as we ambled home through the drizzle. Back then, aged 25, we couldn't even afford four cheeses. We'll start them tomorrow, after Eastenders.
Tomorrow came, and inbetween various phone calls to our respective parents about how long to cook sprouts for and wondering why we were finding Disney's The Sword in the Stone quite so hilarious (gas leak?), we took it in turns to bounce my five month old nephew round the room. Up and down and round and round, the kid seems convinced that the world will come to a sudden, and rather vicious end, if he isn't constantly in motion. Worrying.
After dinner, there was Christmas crumble, which I undercooked, shoved under the grill in an attempt to liven up and subsequently burnt. This was accompanied, or rather, replaced by, chips and dip and chocolate and everything but the four cheeses. I blame my brother, who distracted us by watching Big with the same sort of wanton amusement we had displayed with the Sword in the Stone earlier on (gas leak)?.
And after that, exhausted by Coronation Street and unable to face Eastenders, we decided to coincide unwrapping the four cheeses with the beginning of Downton Abbey, which nobody really wanted to watch but felt obliged to. But the respective plight of Lady Mary and Bates the butler quickly lulled us all into deep, impenetrable slumber, and only the most hardened of bulimics would seriously consider breaking out the brie at the hour we all woke up again.
We were spending Boxing Day with my dad, the twins and little Miss New Boobs (what we still call my stepmother and her sons despite the fact she's been in the family for 8 years now). Obviously there was no point in taking the four cheeses along, even with 12 people in the house there was still going to be far too much food. We decided to wait and crack them open when we got back to Brighton that evening, neither of us were planning on eating that much that we couldn't squeeze in a sliver of applewood or a few crumbs of Stilton.
Or, of course, so we thought. After pre-lunch, lunch and second lunch, a quick snack, a slightly longer snack, afternoon tea and the best part of a tin of Quality Street, all we wanted to do when we got home last night, even water seemed like grotesque indulgence. The four cheeses were a prospect too horrible to consider.
And so now, what is to become of them?
Yes, I know. It's cheese, it's already mouldy, it will last forever, we could eat it when we're 90. But that's hardly the point. They were the four cheeses of Christmas, they were on our list of essentials for the festive period and we have failed them. Failed ourselves. Failed. I suspect we'll either end up handing them out to the homeless or feeding them to the cat. Either way, cheese - it's ripe with disappointment and false promises. Maybe that's what makes it taste so damn good?