A Tiny Piece of the Biggest Wheel of Cheese

A and I consider ourselves to be on top of the local food trend—just the other day, A and I rescued some tomato cages from someone’s curb.

“Pull over! Put your flashers on!” she cried, nearly spilling our leftover Thai food, because some lesbian stereotypes are true. Then she just jumped out and grabbed them, and now we have tomato cages. The circle of life continues.

My point is that we like locally grown food. And we like supporting local businesses. Especially the greatest deli in the world, right here in our little college town, a deli and bakery so great that President Obama and Oprah have praised their sandwiches, so renowned that people are all over the world order their food through the mail while all we have to do is drive into town and find a parking spot (which to be fair, sometimes takes longer). A has been hinting with all the subtlety of a hammer that I should take their regularly offered breadmaking classes. I’m 100% into it but I’ve been pretending to mull it over just to hear her attempt to pronounce “challah” correctly.

Stella and I went there for her birthday one year, and I bought us a piece of cake to split, since their cakes have six layers and a half slice is enough to put you in a sugar coma. We were mulling over which flavor to get (we went for “Death by Chocolate” of course, because we live dangerously) and a skinny college girl behind us, wearing one of those cute floral dresses that only young and skinny college girls wear, said to us, “The hummingbird cake is my favorite, that’s what I’m getting.”

“That does look good,” I said, since the hummingbird cake is toasted coconut, bananas, pecans and pineapple covered in the best cream cheese frosting you’ve ever had. These people know their frosting. There are classes where they teach you the secrets of their frosting.

We ordered our chocolate cake because we are old, post-college ladies who are stuck in our ways.  Stella went to the bathroom while I waited for our single slice, and the girl behind us stepped up to order.

“I’ll have the hummingbird,” she said.

“Just a slice?” said the cashier.

The girl thought for barely a moment. “No, the whole cake.”

“The whole cake?” said the cashier.

“The whole cake?” I whispered.

“The whole cake,” nodded the girl.

Both the cashier and I were genuinely impressed. When I was in college, I had to work up all my courage to ask for extra onions on a sandwich.

Stella and I had already started digging into our one measly gargantuan slice by the time the girl’s cake had been all wrapped up in its fancy signature box (this business has its own font and loves to show it off). The girl put on her sunglasses and strode out, confidently holding the box with one hand.

“Did she get a whole cake?” said Stella.

“She got the whole cake,” I said reverently. “It cost forty-five dollars.”

“But it’s Monday.”

“I know!”

“Is it exams week?”

“Some of the classes must have finals around now, don’t they?” I said. “I mean, what else could make someone go, ‘To hell with everything, I’m getting an entire cake on a Monday at four in the afternoon.’”

Anyway, our local internationally famous and beloved local institution was celebrating its 35th anniversary last week with an evening street fair in the farmers market offering samples of the best cheeses and meats from around the country—all for free!

cheese copyI got a sample from a gigantic wheel of Parmesan cheese, which was honestly the best Parmesan cheese I’ve ever had. It was just crumbly enough to melt on the tongue, had a nice little flavor kick to it, delicious. And I’ve never seen a bigger wheel of cheese, so I feel some sense of accomplishment just knowing that I’ve both seen and sampled a wheel of cheese the size of a car tire.

popcorn copyWe tried some artisan salted popcorn made Pennsylvania Dutch-style (I think that means that the person making it has to wear a jaunty farmer hat), and it was delicious.

A had some acorn-fed prosciutto that was well worth the wait in line. Even the line for crackers was at least seven minutes. The farmers market was genuinely stuffed with people, including all the requisite yoga moms and tattooed dads calling for kids named “Sterling.”

The gay dudes in front of us in line for balsamic vinegar samples were already talking about the after-party at the gay bar across the street. We looked at each other hopefully, but A said, “Oh, that’s after 10, we’ll be asleep by then.”


But the hottest ticket by far was the 20% off coupons at every stall—anything at the deli, from a meal to groceries to the hardcover books written by the super-hippie awesome owner of the whole business about how he runs his company with kindness and groovy vibes—was 20% off, for one day only.

One. Day. Only.

A was already strategizing. She could lead an army if their sole objective was to take over an organic produce store.

“If we each get a sandwich and I get all the groceries I’ll ever need, we’ll save so much. I’m going to try a bunch of new things. This is my chance to make this place my official bean purveyor.”

So A got two bags of beans: small bags, the size that you could comfortably hold in your hand, but they were still like twelve bucks. She also got some coffee and tea and I got some ten-dollar graham crackers (they’re worth it, trust me, you’ve never tasted a more amazing graham cracker. They offer classes where you learn how make their graham crackers and nothing else).

We waited a good thirty minutes just to order our sandwiches (A busied herself by running around looking for more beans to try) and then another thirty for our sandwiches. The joint was jammed.

crowd copy

Because the founder of this business is a hippie, the employees are actually well-paid and taken care of, and as such they are always exceptionally cheerful and eager to help. But the girl who brought out our sandwiches was uncharacteristically flustered. She apologized for the wait and I said, “It’s no problem, we knew what we were getting into by coming tonight!”

“We weren’t expecting this many people,” she said, in the hush tones reserved for hospital corridors.

I really felt for the staff, but if they hadn’t prepared for this level of insanity, they shouldn’t have tossed 20% off coupons to hundreds of people like Evita Peron throwing money from the train car.

That night, in a graham cracker-induced frenzy, A realized that the heirloom beans she’d bought were a quarter of the price on Amazon.

“I gotta return these beans,” she said gravely, as if she’d just decided to storm a beach.

I was skeptical, but like I said, this business is run purely on groovy vibes and exceptional customer service, so the very next morning, A was able to return her bags of beans.

We weren’t the only ones in line to return something. In the light of day, people had re-evaluated their purchases and realized, “I can’t eat this entire slab of cheese, I’m lactose intolerant.” “Why did I buy a full side of ham for two people?!” “I can’t keep a 200 year old bottle of balsamic vinegar in my dorm!”

“I exchanged my beans for bread, butter, and cheese,” reported A. “It’s a good trade.”

“It is a good trade,” I said, like a reverent Amish farmer. “It’d be an excellent trade on the Oregon Trail.”

God, I loved that game.

“Their bread is so expensive,” said A, through a mouthful of bread. “You gotta take that bread class.”

Long story short, I am taking a bread class. If all goes well, I’ll be just like Evita, handing out loaves of bread to random people on the street.


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