Origin Story Pt.1

Hi there. My name, my full, actual name, is Cheese Barnaby Peterson.

No, Cheese is not short for anything; it’s just Cheese (and then Barnaby and then Peterson). I grew up in a tiny little town called Blessed [bless-əd], TX, right on the Texas/Louisiana border. It’s funny, most of our house was in Texas, but about half our living room was in Louisiana! Hahaha! Well, I guess you had to be there.

If you’re sitting there wondering, “What kind of parents would name their kid Cheese?” Well, I’ll tell you.

My mother, Venus, was an immensely talented circus clown and the breadwinner of the family. My dad, Peter Peterson (I know), was just a really cool guy who smoked a lot of weed and sort of pretended he was in a biker gang. He and Venus met backstage in at a traveling circus gig when he was a roadie and she was a Level 2 Clown. Incidentally, before retiring, she reached level 12, the highest level there is. Just saying, the woman could clown. Anyway, they fell in love immediately and an orangutan officiated their wedding an hour later.

One day, when my mom was about eight months preggers, she and my dad were sharing a joint on the couch while watching Barnaby Jones on the TV, and she said, “Baby, go to the fridge and get me some cheese.”

He sat there on the couch not really hearing her and mumbled, “Ya know, honey, I’m thinkin’ we should name the kid Barnaby. That’s a good f*ckin’ name.”

My mom said, “I’m gonna name the baby Cheese if you don’t get up and get me some right now.”

My dad just smiled and sat back and crossed his arms and said, “Suits me.”

Then they were both laughing, and with heavy lips and eyelids, my mom said, “Yeah. I like Cheese. That’s a good f*ckin’ name. Cheese Barnaby Peterson.”

Well, my dad couldn’t handle that. He laughed so hard he spit up his ravioli dinner all down his shirt.

Then my mom exclaimed between breathy laughs, “Peter, it’s a sign! The baby’s name is Cheese!”

My dad grinned widely with chunks on his cheeks and said either “rock n’ roll” or “praise Jesus” but I could never get them to agree.

I’m glad they had such a good time naming me Cheese, I really, really am.

Sometimes folks are like, “why don’t you just go by your middle name?”

First of all, y’all need to stop asking me this. I love my first name and I never complain about it. Ever.

Secondly, Barnaby is an old-fashioned name. But some folks are like, you could go by “Barney” or “Barn.”

Well, Barney is out of the question because my estranged cousin is named Barney, after Barney Miller, the TV character. And did I mention Barney was a registered sex offender? Plus somebody told me he hated cheese, too, so, no, we can’t have the same name.

And “Barn” is a non-starter because that would just lead to more questions, like whether I was RAISED in a barn, etc, etc, etc.

No, thank you, my name is Cheese, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Not that I want anyone to do anything about it, just saying.

At this point, you’re probably wondering, “how did you come to be a cheese blogger?” Well, hold your horses, we’re getting there.

So high school was weird. I was somehow both popular AND friendless. Popular because of my name, friendless because of major trust issues due to past trauma (more on that possibly another time, this is a cheese blog hehe 🤪).

I will say, more than once, someone invited me to a party and when they showed up with me, announced, “Hey look everyone, I brought Cheese!” and everyone at the party would get excited for a second and look over and then there was this chorus of laughter and annoyed groans, because they were expecting a tray of cheese cubes, not me. Once the laughter died down and everyone got their comments in, I was then shown the door and asked to leave.

After graduating high school, my mom said, “we can’t afford to send you to college, but I do get a discount at the clown school.” I appreciated the effort but clowning is not for me (trust me). I dropped out after a month because even at clown school everyone’s like, “Your real name is CHEESE???”

To that comment I always wanted to say, “No, my real name is Fromage, but I changed it to Cheese to make it easier for idiots like you.”

I’ve never actually said this to anyone but in my head it leaves them feeling devastated and then I’m overcome with guilt and cancel all my plans for the night.

Clown school wasn’t all bad, actually. That’s where I met Gary Pizzoli. “I don’t have to be in clown school,” he said. He was an older guy, doing it just as a hobby, this clowning. And it really was, because Gary owned and operated the premiere cheese shop in town, Pizzoli’s Life of Cheese.

“Well, I’ll be, my first name is Cheese!”

This is the first thing I ever really said to him, and for some reason I said it really loud, so loud that I pee’d a little (okay, a lot). All at once in that moment, the idea came to me that I should lean into my name and work in cheese and learn as much as possible about it. This was my destiny.

He crooked his eyebrow and asked, “do you have any experience selling it?” It was as if for a second, he had envisioned perhaps making me his store’s spokesman, or mascot, include me in the branding somewhere.

“Oh no, haha.” I said.

“Hmmmm,” he “said.”

You’d think with this name that I was born into the business, but no, far from it. For the first twenty years of my life, I avoided cheese like a collarless dog. You never had collarless dogs roaming your neighborhood? Huh, we had packs of them just running amok, all different breeds, beautiful, majestic, trotting into town from the woods in tight formation, fresh game hanging from their bloody jaws. No one even thought of petting them. Maybe it was just a regional thing. Anyway, that’s my example of something I’d avoid. I treated cheese same as those dogs——until I met Gary.

I told Gary Pizzoli all of this, including the stuff about the dogs, because I had started talking and when that happens I can’t stop until people start looking at their watch. He looked at his watch and said, “well, now I definitely don’t want to hire you.”

But, he did say, when he saw how upset I was getting, that if I was actually interested in working in cheese, which I had just realized was my destiny, he could help me get a job at Helen’s, the “other” cheese shop in town. He said if he hears good things about me from Helen’s, then maybe one day I could go work “in the big leagues” behind the counter at his shop.

I was intimidated, touched, and also I thought, “gosh, this guy kinda seems like a douche.” Still, I took him up on his offer, though now I think he was just feeding me a line. He seemed annoyed when I kept calling him and calling him and calling him to follow up about it, though maybe (probably) it was the addition of all the voicemails I left——and I can only imagine all the texts I would have sent, had they been a thing at the time.

But, it all paid off.

One day, five weeks later, he finally picked up and said, “Just go to Helen’s and apply, okay? And if they call me, I’ll say they should hire you. Are you happy? Please, just leave me alone.” He also went on this whole rant about how he wished he’d never met me, but I cut all that for brevity.

And so awaited the most transformative and consequential job application form of my career as a cheese-forward foodie…

***To be continued***

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