Relative Values of Sharp

A Tale of Darkest Suburbia

It was a dark and chilly night in Darkest Suburbia – dark enough to make a pedestrian in black clothing effectively invisible, and chilly enough that one did not need a refrigerated delivery van to keep groceries cold on their trip from a supermarket shelf to a customer’s home kitchen.

This was just as well, since the groceries in question didn’t arrive in a refrigerated van. Instead, a friendly civilian driver turned up just as the supermarket’s 4-hour delivery window was about to run out, bearing bags of assorted edibles – including a couple of different varieties of Tillamook cheese. According to the receipt, the order included a packet of medium white cheddar slices and a packet of smoked provolone cheese slices, each priced at $1.97 on sale. For Tillamook cheese, one of Oregon’s best-known brands, this represented an excellent deal.

The sliced white cheddar arrived more or less as expected. (There is a story here about thin-sliced cheese versus thick-sliced cheese, but it is not the story presently being told.)

The provolone…did not.

In its place was a treasure – aged not for a mere sixty days, but for two long years in the fabled vaults of the Tillamook County Creamery Association. Enrobed securely in elegant black, worthy of a red-carpet reception line, it was an object scarcely to be dreamed of by a mere storyteller living in a second-floor garret condominium with yellow Caution tape stretched along the railing at the top of the stairs leading to his front door. (There is a story about that Caution tape, but as with the story about the thickness of cheese slices, it is not the one being told herein – and it should be mentioned that the Caution tape was in no way a reflection on the character of the storyteller’s neighborhood.)

Here is what the storyteller found bundled willy-nilly with the plain sliced cheddar he had (not exactly) asked for:

Tillamook Extra Sharp White Cheddar (2 lb. block)

This was clearly not a packet of sliced provolone, despite the receipt’s insistence that the order it accompanied contained just such a packet, for which the storyteller had been charged a mere $1.97 on sale. Indeed, the receipt completely failed to mention the matter of an elegant black cheese block worth many times the price of the provolone – about $18, according to the supermarket’s Web site.

Surely, thought the poor but honest storyteller (his latest lottery ticket, as usual, not having been that night’s $400 million winner), the supermarket must be worried about one of its treasures having disappeared from the highly secure refrigerated vault in which it had doubtless been stored. So he dutifully called up the supermarket’s customer support desk. “I think,” he told the lady in the call center, “I have something of yours. Or possibly someone else’s.”

“Oh?” said the lady in the call center. “And what would that be?”

So prompted, the storyteller explained about the sliced provolone that had not arrived and the block of wondrous cheddar goodness that had come instead. “Surely,” he said, “someone else must be missing this. It hardly seems fair that I should have it – besides, being all alone in my garret, er, condominium, this much cheese would take a really long time to use up.”

The lady in the call center made sympathetic noises, but stood her ground. “Maybe,” she said, “but there’s no way for me to trace the issue from here, and even if there were, we can’t shuffle groceries around between customers once they’ve been delivered.”

The storyteller resisted the impulse to sigh. “So you’re telling me I’m stuck with this – this doorstop-sized block of cheese.”

“I’m sure you’ll make good use of it,” the call center lady told him. “Oh – and since you didn’t get that provolone you ordered, we really ought to refund your $1.97.”

The noise the storyteller made was too strangled to count as laughter. “Heavens, no,” he said., “It wouldn’t be right. You’re losing too much on this order already.”

The call center lady sounded doubtful. “If you’re sure,” she said, leaving the end of the sentence hanging.

Once again, the storyteller managed not to sigh. “I’m sure.”


Somewhere far from Darkest Suburbia, the lady who spoke with the storyteller that night is cheerful, having received a highly favorable customer service rating on her recent performance.

Meanwhile, in the heart of Darkest Suburbia, the storyteller is asleep in his garret condominium, dreaming of better days to come. And in a drawer in his refrigerator, there is a brick as black as the night sky, its surface yet untouched by knife or grater. For surely, if Tillamook Extra Sharp White Cheddar aged for two years is so wonderfully valuable, then such a block aged for three years might be even more so….