The first time I thought I fell in love, it happened over a shared funnel cake at a county fair. He insisted on no powdered sugar. When we broke up, I ate my guilt in the form of McDonald’s apple pies. A boy I thought I could fall in love with in college used to order his hamburgers well done, and when the infatuation wore off, I celebrated freedom by ordering one cooked medium rare. Years later, the first boy who succeeded in breaking my heart sprang the news on me at my favorite restaurant; he got to enjoy a great dinner while the food turned to sawdust in my mouth. For most of my life, I was engaged in a clumsy culinary pas de deux with every boy I chose—even when we got the steps right, we were always dancing to different tunes. It was only a few years ago that I learned what it felt like to fall into step with someone, and it happened over a charcuterie board.
T and I first met on Twitter six years ago. It wasn’t a meet-cute, and we didn’t have a compelling “opposites attract” sort of chemistry. I can confirm all this; I went back to find the very first tweet. I was nervous about hearing back on a law school scholarship, he wished me luck, and I said thank you. In the years that followed, he was an online friend who lived in New York City, and I was a harried law student living in D.C. When I landed my dream job as a public defender in Manhattan, moving to the city required putting down first and last month’s rent, a security deposit, application fees, and an IOU for my first born, leaving me broke. I’m talking “buying 30-cent ramen noodles and splitting it in half for lunch and dinner” levels of broke. There was no gallivanting to happy hours and brunches as I was promised by all the Sex And The City episodes I grew up on.
When I passed the bar exam, T insisted that I finally treat myself to a celebration, which might also have been him insisting that the two of us finally meet. I arrived at the Italian restaurant in Brooklyn and scoured the menu for an item that I could afford to split, landing on a cheese board. The board seemed out of place on the otherwise Italian menu: It contained an odd selection of French cheeses, including brie, fromage de chèvre, and a Comté, and had none of the expected caprino, mozzarella, and asiago. But we laughed a lot from either side of our shared meal, and that night started our tradition of scouring menus for charcuterie boards when we would sit down for our bi-weekly “friend dates” to catch up, vent a little, and laugh some more. If at any point T realized that the first cheese board we ever shared had been a purely price-motivated choice, he never once let on. But he did pay for the meal when I went to the bathroom.
The best board was at a French-Hungarian restaurant in Park Slope where bottles of wine were half off during happy hour. The staff would always recognize us, our favorite bottle of wine was always available, and it offered the two of us a place to call “our place.” Our place has since gone to the big restaurant graveyard in the sky (cause of death: rising commercial rent prices), but every time we went, the board was different. One week we would be greeted with an assortment of local cheddars, cured meats, and cornichons, and another week would find us enjoying a variety of soft cheeses with truffle honey, nuts, and fruits. It was where we discovered the joy in trying new things inside old and familiar places. Once we no longer had the latter, we were each other’s familiar place.
Over the course of 18 months of brie and honey, prosciutto and asiago, pâté and rustic baguettes, our friendship outgrew its label and became something more, a something we wanted to hold onto with both hands and both feet. It’s been a mighty change of pace moving from the mismatches of the past toward someone whose plate I would gladly eat off of.
Four years after our our first misfit French cheese board, I’ve learned how to budget and widen my menu options beyond appetizers when we go out. I’ve made friends in my adoptive city, and what started as a virtual connection to someone has become as real as anything else in Brooklyn. As for our charcuterie love, we’ve brought the boards home with us, turning them into something we build together. The process is fun, and like at that French-Hungarian restaurant, the boards are alway different: a mashup of whichever cheeses we find at Trader Joe’s, cured meats in various cuts, something sweet to liven the palate, something crunchy for texture. We’ve been dubbed “the couple who puts out the good cheese,” and among our friends, that’s a mantle to wear proudly. Now whenever we host a game night, wrestling watch party, or dinner at our home, we bring out a charcuterie board. We open a window into our origin story and, if we’re lucky, a story arc that will continue through decades. We toast each other with wine when our eyes meet across the room, because even if it’s just some meat and cheese to everyone else, it’s really an easter egg, hidden in the fabric of the night, just for us.