Bergkäse, Juarez and Spanish Chorizo

Vienna, Austria, October 2011

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We had just eaten, a lot, but there it was written in yellow vynil letters so seducing to the eye. It read Käseland -Cheese Land- in this small local store inside the Naschmarkt (the most famous market in Vienna for its gastronomical variety since the 16th century ). I entered.

As soon as I opened the door I was lost with all the variety that practically sprung out of every wall. I then decided to be safe and in order to hide my complete ignorance on cheese, asked for the typical cheese in Austria. The seller answered in a pacient voice “That would be Bergkäse”. Then she asked “What will it be. We have six months, one year or 3 years old Bergkäse.”

I think she realized how lost I was, because of the look of my face, that she carefully cut a piece of cheese and simply gave it to me. She then explained in a clear and dynamic voice that it was Bergkäse six months old produced in the high mountains of Austria. With such care and professionallity she weighted the cheese and packed it in its bag and was ready for the next order. I cannot remember how was it that our small talk started but the word Mexico highlighted in our conversation. Then a charistmatic male voice all the way across the store screamed , “Ahh we have a Juarista here!” . Juaristas were the followers of Benito Juarez, a Mexican president that overthrew the Empire and restored the Republic in the 19th century.

Helena and Franccesco (although his real name is Franz as I checked it on their website) were these two sympathetic cheese experts that inform and sell cheese to lost clients like myself. Helena enlightened me with great serenity in her voice about the fact that hard cheeses are always lactose free and so I would not have to worry about leaving funny smells after a cheese and bread plate dinner. Franccesco, a tall long haired cheerful man, then emphasized that cheese and wine have a very romantic resemblance in the fact that there is no good or bad cheese, there is a rich variety for every taste and for every price.

Surprisingly cheese what not the only topic that we talked about. He mentioned that he liked Mexico, not only for its great weather, but for being the only country that protested against German invasion back in the second world war. I myself thought that was only an urban legend told to mexican kids to feel proud about our country. Franccesco also insighted about Juarez and Maximilian of Hasburg (Austrian), the proclaimed Emperor of Mexico that later payed for this title with his own life in a tragic situation caused by an internal war in the country of Tequila and Mariachi. We then jumped to Emperor Moctezuma’s plume and why Francessco thought it was well taken care of here in Vienna (Vienna Ethnological Museum) and not in Mexico. I was glad we didn’t start a debate about that.

We soon took pictures together and between laughs and small jokes Francessco and Helena gave us as a token of their affection. “A spanish chorizo for my Juarista” he said with a big smile in his face while he packed it with the same care as if I would have bought it. Till this day I am not sure if this sentece had a doble meaning, but I really don’t want to find out.

So much for the combination of cheese and history that we soon realized the things that bounded us. Cheese lovers, historical connexions and a friendly disposition to know about each other made my Käseland visit another evidence on how wonderfully surprising people can be.

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