Sandy's Ramblings

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Of cheese, bread and plastic

Before I start, a disclaimer: I might sound angry or jaded in what I write - sometimes I might be, but generally the annoyances experienced out here become strangely endearing and you just have to laugh at them. It's good to vent sometimes though, and hell, I believe you people should know these things. Might help you make informed decisions in the future.

My kingdom for cheese on toast. A difficult proposition though, considering that China's not big on bread, nor cheese nor toasters. Houses don't have ovens. All this makes having some cheese on toast tricky at best.

We've tried buying some cheese - but it all comes in slices, each individually wrapped in plastic, and at about R16 for 12 slices. Bought some anyway - it's not really cheese I don't think, but it'll have to do. Also, milk is a tough one - the Chinese don't seem to drink milk, and milk in shops is unpasteurised - might have something to do with the cheese crisis.

Bread. A loaf? Forget it. You buy a few slices at a time, usually 4 (wrapped in plastic), or if you're lucky you can maybe get 6 or even 8 slices at once. All the bread is sweetened to varying degrees, and makes having some toast feel like you're eating a really bad cake. Not having a toaster nor an oven makes making toast a challenge - the best we've managed so far is to stick the bread into a dry frying pan and putting it over the gas stove for a very short time to 'toast' it. Sort of works, but inevitably burns the toast. You get used to it. It also leaves a nasty residue on the frying pan. Did I mention that our sink is nearly perfectly level? You guys take for granted that when you pull the plug the sink drains. Enjoy the luxury.

We were pondering how to melt the cheese slices once they're on the hot burnt piece of bread. So far no idea. We've tried angling it near to the flames of the gas cooker, but no effect. We've tried putting the toast back in the frying pan on a low heat for a while but it just makes the burning worse. We've tried putting a lid (or rather a plate) on the frying pan to contain the heat and heat the cheese from above, but once again the burning on the bread worsened - presumably this would melt the cheese eventually but you can't risking losing a precious slice of cheese by congealing it to a charcoal slice.

I spent some time online looking for info on how to make your own cheese. Looks like fun actually, but you require some basics before you start. A cheese cloth, rennet (to separate milk into curds and whey), proper fresh farm milk (or pasteurised milk from the store at worst). Don't know where I could find the first two in a country that isn't big on milk in the first place. Apparently using unpasteurised milk (like I would have to) means that your cheese will take an extra 4 months or so to make because you have to make sure (and keep treating it) that there are no pathogens in it. Another issue is that cheese making is very sensitive to temperature - you need to get the right bacteria doing the right things for the right amount of time at the right time, and this of course requires controlled heating and cooling and a good thermometer. Generally shouldn't be a problem here, but the Chinese aren't big on respecting other people. For example, when there is building going on in the block of flats here (and there is always building going on) they are prone to switching off the water, gas and electricity (in whatever combination they please) for an hour or so at a time at effectively random times (no-one informs you of course) so this would throw the careful temperature-maintaining of the cheese out of the window. You generally have about a 3 degree celsius window to work with. So forget that. Maybe another day in another country.

Plastic. As I said before, everything comes wrapped in plastic. A couple slices of bread, each slice of cheese, every biscuit in a box. They love their plastic. Most of it ends up in the street too, although they are good at getting the manpower out to pick the stuff up in the early hours of the morning. I just can't help wondering why they use so much of the stuff. When you think of the wasted plastic and the population of China, and you do some simple sums, the numbers get scary. I sometimes wonder too just how much rice the Chinese consume as a whole every day. And how many chickens are eaten every day. And so on. I have to take my hat off in many ways to the Chinese government for managing to run a place like this. I can't imagine South Africa having a chance.


  • Wrapped in plastic, as in gladwrap? Or machine wrap?

    Perhaps millions of people work in factories where their sole purpose is to wrap cookies in plastic.

    Kind of like (chocolate factory) Charlie's dad who lost his job at the toothpaste factory where he used to screw on toothpaste caps.

    By Blogger henkk, at 5:14 am  

  • Machine wrapped... it would not surprise me in the least to have whole factories dedicated to these tasks. You have to find jobs somehow.

    By Blogger Sandy MacPherson, at 1:22 pm  

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