In a cheese shop the other day, conversation turned to exotic cheeses and someone mentioned Gjetost, the Norwegian goat’s milk cheese which looks like a block of fudge and has a distinctive, caramel element to its taste. It’s a cooked cheese made with whey and cream, very rich and usually eaten in wafer-thin slivers.
Mention of Gjetost took me back to early school days. At the age of seven, my class teacher was Miss Clarke-Wilson, a formidable lady but very popular with us.
For Geography lessons, she had a genius idea. Whenever we started learning about a new country, Miss Clarke-Wilson would (at her own expense, I imagine) bring in samples of food from that country for us to try.
This cannot have been easy to achieve at a time when Edinburgh shops were not known as emporia of foreign food. Nevertheless she managed to get us lychees when we were reading about China, dates to represent Egypt, and most memorably of all, Gjetost to evoke Norway. Years later, when I played in Norway, I joyfully bought a block of Gjetost and tried to eat it in cubes like fudge, but I quickly saw the point of the wafer-thin slices.
Offering children a taste of food from a faraway country was inspired. I doubt if any of us had been further away than England. Apart from looking at pictures, we had no easy way of imagining life in exotic lands. But a taste of their food produced an immediate sense of connection with them. The tastes were unexpected, strange and tantalising. It was instantly clear that life in other countries had new experiences to offer.