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    June 12th, 2011OliverInterviews

    Deborah Davis' books include You Look Too Young To Be A Mom, My Brother Has AIDS and, most recently, Not Like You (available here) – a novel that she says is influenced by cheese.

    You say cheese figures a great deal in your novel Not Like You. What is the relationship between cheese and your main character, Kayla, and why is it so important?
    Cheese is the perfect food for Kayla, a 15-year-old girl who has taken care of her alcoholic mother for years and is now trying to live her life more independently. It's perfect because Kayla is not exactly a gourmet chef, and she can eat cheese right out of its wrapper. Plus, cheese is a comforting food – and this girl needs a whole lot of comforting. Last, cheese can be purchased inexpensively, so it fits into Kayla's extremely small budget.

    When writing about cheese in your novels, how much do you take from personal experience?
    A lot. Whenever I write about food in my fiction, I draw on my own sensory-filled memories of tasting, smelling, and looking at food. I'm currently working on a novel set in India, so I'm pulling from my experiences eating curry and rice and chutney while I lived in that country. And paneer, of course. Mmmm. Might have to have some palak paneer for dinner tonight.

    Speaking of personal experience, what would you say separates your encounters from other cheese eaters?
    Sometimes my cheeses talk to me. Each type has a distinct voice and personality. For example, blue cheese asks a lot of challenging questions, while Monterey Jack is kind of quiet and a good listener, you know? You don't? Your cheese don't talk to you? Oh, never mind.

    If you were going to create a cheeseboard for a fancy dinner party, what would you select to serve?
    I don't get too fancy with cheeses. I'd include brie, for sure. A soft, herb goat cheese. Some creamy Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese. And maybe a cheese fondue with small chunks of olive bread.

    What's the worst craving you've ever had for cheese?
    I can tell you exactly: I was out of breath and chilled to the bone at 18,000 feet elevation on Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and it was three o'clock in the morning. A bitter wind had brought the temperature down to zero degrees Fahrenheit and I'd been hiking up to the summit at a snail's pace since midnight. Every once in a while I forced myself to take bites of a protein bar, but what I desperately wanted—and didn't have—was a nice hunk of cheese!

    What was your most remarkable experience with cheese?
    On another wilderness adventure—this time a cross-country skiing expedition in northern Minnesota—I became chilled while setting up camp at dusk. The temperature was 20 degrees below zero and dropping, and my inability to get warm scared me. One of my companions asked if I'd eaten lunch. I hadn't: we'd crossed a frozen lake at midday, skiing into a headwind, and I hadn't managed to eat more than a bite or two. I pulled the remains of my lunch from my pocket, and there was my uneaten chunk of sharp cheddar. I wolfed it down and within minutes, warmth seeped through my veins and I stopped shaking.