I was first introduced to Laughing Cow (the Cow that Laughs) as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique.
It was a tasty, if pricey, substitute for what I considered “real” cheese, which became a regular stablemate of my mantega de rama (almost butter but not quite), jam in a can and pretty much anything else bread spreadable I could get my hands on that didn’t really need refrigerating.
See, in those days, it was incredibly difficult, if impossible to find block cheese, and in fact some ex-pats went to great lengths to get their hands on cheese, say, taking a drive to Nelspruit (South Africa) or having cheese snuck in (or even mailed…) from the States or elsewhere.
But a miraculous thing happened my second year in Mozambique — South African “supermarkets” (really mini markets) started popping up in places like Vilankulo and Maxixe (in Inhambane Province where I resided). And it was pretty legit cheese (though it did not solve my lack of a fridge — which led to making a clay pot pit fridge, but that’s another story).
With the arrival of South African cheese, my love affair with Laughing Cow waned and life marched on. Yet, I have fond memories of staring at that little box of goodness, which no matter my mood always seemed to make the day a bit less dreary, thinking, “wow, if that cow can laugh after probably being confined to a tiny room with machines working away for hours at its dangly unmentionables, so can I.”
Fast forward to my return to the U.S. and my utter astonishment (I refrained with all of my might from inserting “udder” back there…you’re welcome!) upon seeing Laughing Cow (the Cow that Laughs) laughing right back at me in the local Safeway. I knew from the box that the cheese was a product of France, but began to wonder how pervasive this jovial bovine really was.
Five years later, I got my answer at a bus station in Laos. It was lunch time and the vendors were selling fresh baguette (a common sight throughout Laos). That’s when I saw that mouthwatering and uplifting mug of hers yet again! And in fact I’d see her throughout all of Indochina.
Yet none of this would prepare me for what I would encounter in Belize:
“What is this!?” I thought, “they’ve changed the box!” But no, this was no Laughing Cow (The Cow That Laughs), this was HAPPY Cow…Happy WHA…? IMPOSTER!
My first assumption was that I had encountered my first blatant Belizean rip-off of a well-established product — until I examined the packaging. I went directly to the country of origin and read “Product of Austria” (Salzburg, in fact — where meine Großmutter is from). Not even my family roots in Austria could warm me up to this round box with the smiling (dare I say, a bit, smug) beast. But this cow was definitely not laughing, so then could it really be a counterfeit?
Needless to say we bought a box, took it home and had a wedge that night. It was very tasty. Quite tasty in fact…hmm…something wasn’t gelling here.
For weeks that smug little cow taunted me as I spreaded her savory goodness on my lunchtime bread slices and tortilla chips (with salsa on top…my family calls them Mexican oysters, but we use cream cheese in the States). Her penetrating gaze, her accusatory stare tore at my conscious as if to say “I know about that other one, but it’s all good, man. Eat up!” So I did, and so did Lori — but Lori didn’t have a past to reckon with.
And then I noticed something today as I was sitting down to spread a wedge for lunch — a four-digit number on the front of the box: 1889. Could it be a year, perhaps? As often happens, I threw down my tasty wedge and accoutrements and went straight to the interwebs.
To my udder horror (sorry…couldn’t help it that time) I learned that the Happy Cow company was indeed established in 1889 (by Woerle) and my first cheese wedge love, Laughing Cow (The Cow That Laughs), was first produced in 1921. Holy cow! The world as I knew it seemed to fall apart at the seams as I began to digest the truth:
Happy Cow wasn’t the imposter, LAUGHING COW (THE COW THAT LAUGHS) looks like the REAL imposter!!!
I knew that smug little cow was hiding something all along.