Earlier this month, I defrosted my refrigerator. It’s not a summer job, but a thick slab of ice covered the back wall and had to go. I don’t know why the slab of ice got going or why it grew so fast. In winter, I do the job when temperatures dip below freezing. I fill a laundry basket with the freezer’s contents and set it outside. The contents of the fridge go into a cool box first, the cool box keeping everything from freezing, from curry pastes to heads of lettuce.

The typical Swiss fridge is about one third the size of a typical American fridge. The kitchens here are also much smaller. We have no room for a big fridge, but we have a second one in the cellar. Having a place to keep everything properly chilled or frozen made the August defrosting job possible.

I worked strategically. First, I made room downstairs for the upstairs contents by what I had stored there to use. The frozen wild strawberries made up a kilo, so I made jam. The frozen blackberries went into a crisp. And, once the crisp was baked, I served it with lots of ice cream, freeing up more room. Anything with freezer burns, I dumped, but there wasn’t much ruined. Next, I shifted the upstairs contents downstairs, and as the fridge defrosted, I gave it a good scrub.

Blackberry crisp and vanilla ice cream locally sourced.

Within minutes, the slab of ice began to slip, and I peeled it from the back wall whole and threw it outside. Once everything was tip-top again, I refilled the fridge. While inspecting the contents, I found a jar of jam that had gone off. Lesions of mold spotted the jellied surface. The mold looked as if I could simply scrape it off, but there’s more to mold than what you see, and some are harmful.

Gschwellti, a meal made more delicious with the help of friendly molds.

I remember being introduced to Gschwellti, steamed potatoes served with a selection of Swiss, French, and Italian or Spanish cheeses, soft, hard, medium. Pasteurised, unpasteurised. Goat, cow, buffalo. Soft rinds, hard rind, and blue. I was new to the culture of cheese eating, familiar with some but not half of what my mother-in-law served, and I didn’t know all of which in the selection could be eaten with their rinds on. I observed how those around me handled each before trying anything myself. When my mother-in-law found a moldy hard-cheese surface, she simply scarped it off, which astonished me. I probably would have thrown away the whole cheese.

There are molds and there are molds. Some are dangerous. Most reach deep.