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Nothing unites a country more than a fast-food restaurant chain shutting its doors for the last time. Sizzler Australia may have sizzled but the nostalgic musings of their legendary cheese toast has brought people together in a time when, well, we can’t really come together. This outpouring has prompted me to re-visit my complicated relationship with the Southland cheese roll.
It began many years ago on a cold night in Mosgiel, when I was meeting my prospective in-laws for the first time and was offered a ‘‘cheese roll’’ with my soup. Thinking, naively, I was being offered a bread roll with some cheese, I stretched out my frostbitten hands gratefully (a slight exaggeration but I’m an Aussie and it was July). And so it began. A rift between one Australian and a Kiwi family that has survived numerous Bledisloe Cups and Jacinta envy but may come a cropper thanks to this peculiar yet much-revered delicacy the Southland cheese roll.
I learnt the hard way never ever criticise it, and never reject it when it is offered. It results in an inquisition more damaging to Transtasman relations than a certain underarm bowling incident.
‘‘Do you not like cheese?’’ ‘‘Can you not eat bread?’’ Trying to explain that I wasn’t keen to eat something because I didn’t like the look of it didn’t go down well.
When I dared ask how it was made, the mention of tins of evaporated milk, cream, mustard powder, butter, and onion soup powder made me think it looked like something Nigella wouldn’t be seen dead with. Luckily I did not voice this view. Some people call it Southland sushi. Ahh, that Kiwi humour.
Trying to explain that I didn’t like onion soup powder felt like clutching at straws (no, not the cheese variety). Trying to tell these thoroughly confused people I was trying to win over that I did in fact like cheese on toast but didn’t want one of their cheese rolls led to such a spirited and detailed discussion that we all went to bed early, exhausted.
It’s one of life’s quirks that if you don’t want to come face to face with something you will. They were everywhere. The supermarket. Cafes.
Recipes in magazines. An episode of Shortland Street. My father-in-law’s freezer. A hundred of them. Frozen, ready to heat. I may have made a joke about being ready for a pandemic.
We agreed to disagree and it has since become a much-loved family tradition to try and tempt me. With Covid disrupting our annual visit across the ditch, it’s these memories that burn most bright.
Our differences put aside, the visit went along nicely, and I think I managed to charm the in-laws. Until I was asked whether I was interested in an Afghan.
- Alison Sweeney lives in Sydney.