• Cullen Heater

The Daydreaming Cheesemaker

Updated: Sep 14

The thin squares of mozzarella curd began to melt into one, congealed mass as the yellowish whey separated from the solids, mixing with the warm salt water- not quite hot enough. I dipped the pitcher into the 50-gallon aluminum pot still softly boiling on the stovetop. Pouring the briny water slowly, carefully into the pot, I swirled the mass with a gloved hand and felt the familiar sting of that just-right temperature as the curd began to transform into cheese. The handle of the wooden paddle slid rhythmically, hypnotically, against the edge of the low, wide pot as I lifted the cheese out of the water. The smooth, glossy surface of the warm mozzarella stretched over the edge of my wooden paddle, settling slowly back into the pot.

Bang-bang-bang! The glass wall of the mozzarella lab rattled. Shaken from my daydream, I looked up from my mozz to see a child, 10 or 12 years old, with his hands in his pockets, staring, appalled, as his mother banged her greasy palms against the glass.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" The mother mouthed noiselessly through the soundproof glass. This sort of thing happened from time to time in the Mozz Lab at Eataly Boston; we were the main attraction, on display like fish in a bowl.

"I can't hear you," I replied, forgetting that she couldn't hear me either.

"Why do people do that?" I asked Brittany who was behind me pickling things. She turned her head slightly over her left shoulder. "I don't know, man. People don't know how to behave."

"We should really get a sign or something: 'Please do not tap the glass- it disturbs the cheesemakers.'"

Gianlorenzo Galiano walked in from the dish room whistling, swinging a hotel pan. "Whoa... where does that lady think she is? The Aquarium? Haha, good thing she can't hear me!" He filled the hotel pan with cold water and placed it on the counter next to me.

"Thanks man," I said. "Hey Britt, I'm just gonna finish up this batch and then you can take over. It's all yours."

Brittany efficiently put the last of her pickled things in the lowboy fridge and shut the door with no wasted movement. "Cool," she said. "Did you talk to Hope yet?"

"Yep. It's official," I replied, triumphantly. "I'm leaving, put in my two weeks notice and everything. Ready for my next adventure. Panama here I come."

"What are you doing there again?"

"I'm joining the Peace Corps for two years working on agriculture projects. So I'm going to go live in the middle of nowhere in Panama and help farmers i guess. I won't know all of the specifics until I get there."

"Why would you want to do that?"

I forced the mozzarella up through the tiny hole between my thumb and curved forefinger, squeezing and twisting methodically. The perfect orbs of white mozzarella splashed pleasantly into the cold water.

"That's... a good question..." My mind began to wander again.

I was following an impulse, an instinct, an idea that had been with me since I was 16, planted in my brain by a Peace Corps recruiter who never knew my name. I was chasing adventure, yes, the stuff of adolescent dreams; but, I had a deep desire to do more, a desire to be of help. We have a responsibility to give back to this world that has given so much and a responsibility to help our global family. Cheese is wonderful and all, but isn't life supposed to have some meaning? Aren't we supposed to do great things, Good things?


How do we live a Good life, right here and now? How do we give a part of ourselves in order to change the world for the better? I set out for Panamá in the summer of 2017 to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer and to search for answers. As with all humbling experiences, I only found more questions and confidence in the fact that I know absolutely nothing for certain. But here is what I believe:

I believe that food brings people together, that cultural, linguistic and personal differences can be overcome with a big plate of food and a full stomach. Food is fundamental, the universal language, and has guided both my career path and my philosophy on life. I can't say that it was all planned; life isn't truly an adventure unless you get lost along the way. But I can say that I wouldn't have chosen to live my life any other way.

I believe that travel gives us an opportunity to connect with people from different parts of the world, and to realize that we really aren't that different. The world is a much smaller place than we imagine it to be. Cultural differences are real, but mostly irrelevant. When we exaggerate these differences, we lose sight of that spark of humanity inside each of us, the universality of laughter and a smile.

I plan to use The Food Moves Blog to tell my story and to bring you along on my adventures through the world of food and travel. I am writing to you now from Panama City, Panamá, where I moved after completing my Peace Corps Service. Panamá is where I am going to start this story, although, truthfully, I don't really know where it begins or ends. I hope that you join me on this journey through time and space. I can't wait to find out where it leads us!


~Cullen Heater













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