One of the best gigs I had at the festival last year was playing to an audience of four people, two Germans, a Pole and an Italian, none of whom spoke particularly good English and had no clue as to the majority of the cultural references I was alluding to in my act. I have a vivid memory of having to come down from the stage to try & explain to the four of them what a Gypsy Cream biscuit was.
We all ended up as firm friends and over the past year have built up a pan-European biscuit distribution business. I was best man at the Italian’s wedding, a very plush affair in Milan; but it all got a bit ugly when the reception was raided by the Polizia di Stato for serving illegal Casu Marzu cheese.*
I managed to slip out of a third floor window and shimmy down a drain-pipe. The drain-pipe pulled away from the wall when I was just over half way down, but fortunately my fall was broken by a large cardboard box containing several hundred white doves that were planned to be symbolically released at a climactic point in the day’s proceedings.
But my taste for illicit cheese had been triggered. I tried Stilton, Danish Blue... But looking back now I realise that these were all just ‘gateway cheeses’ and I was already on the slippery slope to full blown addiction.
I quickly graduated to the hard stuff - Parmesan, Zamorano, Wookey Hole Cave Aged Cheddar... before I knew where I was I had lost everything.
I ended up as a dancer in a gentlemen's club to support my habit. I had always dreamed of being a dancer, but not like this. It was a vicious circle – I needed to dance to pay for my addiction & cheese was the only way I could deal with doing my job. I needed help and after several months of intense therapy, I begun to realise that my addiction to cheese was born out of an intense lack of self-esteem and my continued cheese use was simply fear of feeling exposed in a world that I believed I had no ability to negotiate.
Cheese was a buffer between me and the harshness of humanity, and giving it up was the scariest thing I've ever done. Cheese doesn't discriminate. It is agonisingly magnificent for suppressing pain and generating a false sense of well-being. I loved cheese! Users who say ‘I hate cheese’ are lying to themselves. We addicts would not go to the lengths that we do if we didn't love the way it makes us feel. But when it wears off, you're in a hole so deep it’s impossible to climb out. No one sets out to be a cheese addict; it's not a lifestyle choice.
Please use cheese responsibly; sustained cheese abuse can... 'render you infertile, destroy your taste-buds, causes baldness, memory loss, numbness in the extremities and in some instances, death.’ (CEA - The Cheese Enforcement Agency – 2007)
Some of this story is actually true, and those bits were the sparks that lit the sparkler that eventually set off the firework of creativity that lead to the creation of my show Love, Death & Biscuits which will be premiered at this year’s festival.
*Pecorino cheese is opened up and the exposed cheese is left outside in order to attract ‘cheese flies’ that lay eggs in the cheese. The larvae start eating their way through the cheese & passing it back out again changing the flavor & texture of the cheese from being a relatively standard, hard pecorino to a softer and stronger cheese inside a hard shell. The larvae are also part of the meal, but have the ability to jump up to about 6 inches, which means that as you’re putting a piece of cheese-covered bread into your mouth, there might be maggots flying off in all directions, including at your face!