I prefer sex first thing in the morning, before the intensity of the day colors my mood. I’m still rested and optimistic, having not yet squeezed into freshly washed jeans, or been caught in the rain without an umbrella while a man with half my years and twice my income jacks my taxi. My toddler has yet to make every surface within reach sticky. I’m refreshed and ready to properly receive one of the greatest human pleasures. And this is also why I like my cheese the way I like my sex: in the morning.
It seems like every American returning from France, Spain, Italy, or Switzerland (or for that matter, Greece, Germany, or Croatia) says, "The trip was great, but OH MY GAWD! THE CHEEEEEESE!" We assume it’s the centuries of tradition, the terroir, the rarified breeds of livestock, or the cute little cheese shops dotting the land like holes in supermarché Swiss that make European cheese so special. And to a certain extent, we’re right. But I think it’s starting the day with a cheese plate, when the soft glow of morning light mimics the sunshine tinge of the cheese that’s the true European advantage.
Admittedly, we bring our own preferences to the plate. I’ll happily house an Air France breakfast on my way to Europe, and think it’s delicious. Those cute little triangles of foil-wrapped processed cheese food? Adorable, and so creamy, too! That totally ordinary boiled ham? Oh, you mean jambon? Magnifique! Do you think it’s from Brittany or the Savoie? The romance of European travel, even its transcontinental processed cheese, gets me every time. I’ll even put out—like I did for every Tom, Dick, and Pierre on my first college trip to Paris—for a spongy croissant a la cellophane.
Once you’re terra firma, you’ll start your day with a selection of cheese, charcuterie, fruits, and jams. In America, uncooked breakfast is junk food: doughnuts, cold cereal, and gross breakfast bars. In Europe, it’s a delicious reflection of the cultural and geographic history of the surrounding region. It’s the local economy, a way of life. It’s the old lady in a housecoat on a folding chair in the town square. Oh, her? Her brother Tito makes the local cheese—very good—from the milk of his blind donkey, Tatu. Stop! Let’s talk about the breakfast tomato. It’s glorious. Usually just a slice or two on which to drape your prosciutto, or layer onto a slice of Comté. What’s shadier than eating a nightshade when the sun is rising? Nothing. You own the morning, slim.
There’s plenty of cheese in a typical American breakfast, but it’s almost always melted, playing shellac to a derelict carbohydrate. French women don’t get fat, and that’s because they don’t have their bacon, egg, and cheese on a hard roll. They have it on china, with sparkling water and a grape. The breakfast cheese plate is the European clapback to the American buffet. A nibble of this, a nibble of that, hold the diabetes. It’s a way to protein load and carb deny. Sure, bread or crackers hover around, but observe any French woman and you’ll see: soeur ain’t got time for that.
But it’s not enough to be virtuous simply by skipping TAB (Typical American Breakfast) and choosing cheese. One must do more, and it just so happens that breakfast cheese is also a great way to #thankafarmer—a dairy farmer. Believe me, they need it, as the complete upheaval and consolidation of the dairy industry has left dairy farmers struggling to stay afloat. Yogurt—by far the most popular breakfast dairy in America—has helped many a dairy survive another year, and cheese could do the same. Breakfast cheese as a socioeconomic mission, a hero of agriculture? Would ewe believe it? Yes we can!
The truth is, I’ve been saving the best for last in my quest to convert you to the Church of Cheesus Christ of Breakfast Club Saints. The coup de grâce of breakfast cheese is that it’s the perfect foil for another morning delight: the breakfast beer. Germany, I see you, and I like what I see. Want to feel like a badass who can slay the day? Start it with a cheese plate and a beer. Good day, sunshine, indeed.
How to Get Your Day Off to a Cheesy Start
Spaghetti Western: An Italian cheese plate and a western omelet walk into a bar…
Mozzarella di Bufala with roasted red peppers and Coppa ham
Tia Keenan is the author of The Art of the Cheese Plate: Pairings, Recipes, Style, Attitude.