THE BLOG
08/03/2013 11:23 pm ET Updated Oct 02, 2013

Obtuse Cheese: A Lament

Abendbrot, the evening bread, an evening meal of breads, meats, cheeses and various condiments, most always accompanied by a glass of beer or glass of wine, is one of my favorite meals. Abendbrot is the leisurely intake and recognition of life's simplest pleasure, comprised of life's most time-honored and simplest foods.

My earliest and most distinct memories of Abendbrot consist of the meals taken with relatives when visiting in Germany: I remember spearing tomato pieces with colorful, plastic toothpicks as a four-year-old and eating slices (always and only open-faced) of Graues Brot, (literally translated gray bread, correctly translated to mean hearty rye, often sourdough based, loaves as big and round as wagon wheels) schmeared multiple mm-thick with pale, rich butter. I remember helping my beloved Tante (Aunt) in Anspach with her grocery shopping, where I paid careful attention to just how she place her orders, so that years later as a student at the University of Hamburg I would do just the same, where fine assortments of Wurst and Käse would become part of my imprinted repertoire of food loves and shopping lists.

Ditto for my stays with relatives in Berlin, Göttingen, Sundern-Allendorf, and likewise reminiscent of stays elsewhere, the pleasure of this convivial consumption of the edible vernacular has found its place in my household, where, late into the evening and spread over our massive coffee table (space-limited German households, like the post-war apartment my dapper little Aunt and Uncle shared for decades, required the combining of living and dining spaces so more often than not the coffee table as we know it was dining-table in height and used as such) are large wooden trays upon which I meticulously and lovingly will have arranged tiny bowls of olives, pickled this n that, a mustard or two, butter (critically important), and arrays of whatever cheeses, sliced meats and salamis will have caught my eye. There is no American cracker accompaniment, rather there is bread, and the heartier, darker and grainier, the better: Pumpernickel or Vollkorn Brot, moist and brickly; thick-sliced, rye (investment-priced bread acquired at our local echt-deutches bakery-restaurant-kitch emporium), or oven-warmed loaves, the hunks torn off at will. This is as good and simple and honest as food gets.

We have kids, and like parents who love and are devoted to their offspring we love from time to time to get away from them. This usually involves perching on a bar stool next to my husband at a local eatery, often bar oriented, where in our State the little ones are not even allowed in the door. The much-loved, all-ages Wisconsin (I am a born Cheesehead) fish fries notwithstanding, where the kids are no more corrupt for their bar access as any perenially happy-mealed kid ever was, it is actually sometimes nice to be out where no child is in sight.

So, we order our drinks, me usually an oaky cab, my husband more often than not a craft beer. The restaurant trend for meat and cheese platters duly pervasive and having made its way into our neck o' the woods, it has granted us the privilege to select this very thing from our local menus. Reconnecting over a shared plate and a sip, combined with our familiarity of the genre, does beckon.

But I have a beef: in this language-challenged state of mine, where the mastery of our own English is more hit and miss than it ever should be, to listen to hapless waitstaff garble the names of the meats and cheeses we are about to consume is tedious if not the stuff of pure, comic pretense. There is no reason to elevate my good old Abendbrot to artisanal, apple-wood-smoked pseudo-foody gourmet heights. I already get its merits; it is what it is, and that should be gut genug. Nor is there any reason to underscore a server's monolingualism by requiring über-accurate, rote soliloquies to edibles not from these here parts. Cut the obtuse cheese thing. Call that pungent, little triangle by its English translation: I will understand you, you will save face, and we can mutually shelve the pretense. If said cheese is from Spain, say it is from Spain. I do not need to wallow alongside the speaker as he mumbles something about Iberian-such-and-such.

Now ask me about the German beer names we hear eviscerated when out and considering this beloved beverage....