Some years ago I had the good fortune to apartment-sit for some Parisian friends. They had a beautiful duplex, just two blocks from the Seine, across from the Académie des Beaux-Arts. For me the entire experience was a slice of heaven. Every day I would wander out and purchase a fresh bread and some new and exotic cheese, and sometimes a lovely but not too expensive wine, and then I would venture forth into Paris, on my way to explore some new museum or other interesting cultural landmark.
During that trip I developed a taste for really really stinky cheese. I don’t eat cheese these days, but back then I liked to make a point of finding the most alarmingly aromatic cheese I could find – the kind that you could never bring back to the U.S. In those days this sort of cheese was illegal Stateside, presumably because the sheer exquisite headiness of its aroma would cause mass panic and terror in the hearts of American dairy farmers. These farmers knew, to their shame, that their tepid local product could never compete with such pungent magnificence.
Over the course of my stay in Paris I developed little pet names for all aspects of my experience. For example, I began to refer to the very stinkiest cheese – the kind that would spread its intense aroma relentlessly to fill any space – as “missionary cheese”. Later, when I was back in the U.S., I would mention this pet name to people, and they would raise their eyebrows in a most suggestive way. The mere mention of the phrase “missionary cheese” seemed to raise all sorts of lurid images in their minds.
My friends would ask me, not really sure that they wanted to know the answer: “Why did you call it missionary cheese?”
“Because,” I would explain truthfully, “whenever I brought a truly stinky cheese back to my Paris apartment, sooner or later it would convert all the other cheeses.”