"But how hard can it be to find a hole in the ground, you would think somebody would try to find it." I say.
"Believe it, people are looking for the burial site all the time," he says. Although Gibraltar is tiny, most of it is dense scrub-trees on bare, steep rock. Human exploration of much of the rock is impossible, even by an experienced climbing team.
"Okay," I ask, "what would happen if all the apes of Gibraltar perish?"
"Yes," Ernest says. "This is the myth that we have here in Gibraltar. They say that if the apes no longer exist, then the control of the Rock will go from Britain to Spain. But I think this will not happen. The apes will thrive."
This myth has existed since the Spanish began making a series of military bungles against the British on the Rock in an attempt to seize what they could never keep even from the Moors. The Spanish finally resorted to the statement that when the monkeys perish, the British will lose Gibraltar.
When the ape population dwindled to about seven individuals near the end of World War II, Sir Winston Churchhill ordered a replenishment from Morocco. In a speech, he said that Gibraltar will remain British as long as the apes shall live.
Ernest pauses to fumble with his pack of Dunhill Filters. His perch is a small painted shack. Like all the rest of Gibraltar's human community below us, it is compact and built tightly against the cliff. His view is the best in all of Gibraltar - a view of a great harbor, a city and the Iberian mainland beyond. It is glorious and vaguely tropical. To his back is Africa, to his front the nation that wants him speaking Spanish.
"The fact is, there are now up to five tribes in Gibraltar. The monkey populations are growing and the people are committed to their survival. Five tribes, that's three hundred apes."
"So there is a lot of weight on your shoulders to keep them alive?"
"Yes, yes." He carries no modesty or pride with this statement. It is simply a fact. He must care for the monkeys lest Gibraltar goes the way of Hong Kong.
It's a big responsibility. Gibraltar was an essential military component in the defense against Napolean. It is thought that without its strategic location, the British Isles would now be French. It was important even in the Falkland's War. So important that the Argentines attempted to blow the whole harbor up by sneaking bomb-clad divers into Spain. When all England's Falkland ships would be refueling in port, the diver's would slip into the sea, creating Pearl Harbor II. Spain uncovered and foiled the plot.
Gibraltar was known in Roman times, along with a mountain on the African coast - called back then the Mountain of Apes - as the physical end of the world. Beyond these Straits of Gibraltar swam the dragons and demons of the Atlantic.
Later I say to Jane. "That has to be the best job in the world. Get to sit in the sun, meet people from all over the world, and play with monkeys all day."
"Great for him, maybe." Jane says. Almost as if I was suggesting we give up our careers and join Ernest.
An overfed lady is feeding one monkey a ham and cheese sandwich. The apes do not do well with the food that humans offer them. The signs are everywhere. Do Not Feed the Apes. The reasons are apparent. This human food is overprocessed. A ham and cheese sandwich will make the monkey die of obesity. Obesity from junk food has become the leading killer of the apes on Gibraltar.
The monkeys are notorious thieves, and one medium-sized male snatches the plastic-bagged sandwich from the overfed lady, startling her into a scream. The monkey drops the sandwich and the lady snatches it back, poking it at the monkey's face until he grabs it again.
This act happens every single day on Gibraltar.
There is only one answer – please keep that sandwich to yourself.
The thing about this ham and cheese sandwich is that it came out of a plastic bag. The ham is not the kind of cured delicacy that abounds in Portugal and Spain. It comes from a factory paste. And the cheese is outsourced, a white block oozing oil in the sun. It is the kind of sandwich you get from a vending machine. The kind that makes a thud when it drops.
As Jane and I are traveling the world in search of the finest artisanal cheeses on Earth, I thought this ham and cheese sandwich would make a good conversation point for the point of defining good and bad cheese.
At home, cheese is ever-present. It is slathered on burritos, thick on pizzas, oozing in commercial pasta dishes. Some back-home friends are adamant about non-fat, low calorie cheese that comes in individually-wrapped containers. Bland chalky cheese from big corporations like Kraft. Processed cheese, which is really more a 'cheese food' or a 'cheese sauce', is filled with preservatives and artificial fats and artificial flavoring, shipped in big containers and bumped around by the pressures of modern industry. The ingredient buyers scour the world for cost-cutting schemes, looking to make every ingredient as cost-efficient as possible.
The habits of people in industrialized countries are changing along with the big companies that wish it that way. Restaurants and markets and farmhouse products were once more often distinguishable from others, and distinct cheese manufacturers existed around the world in the hundreds of thousands.
Today we are habituated to the idea of standardization in our products. We want consistency. Whether we're in Chicago or New York or Miami, we want to be able to buy our coffee or a taco or an individually-wrapped cheese and have it taste identical to what we know.
Standardization is comforting, but in the process we lose vital culture. The homogenization of modern food is putting our cultural traditions at the risk of extinction. Cultural cuisine traditions that evolved over thousands of years.
What is happening to our food traditions is like having a very large bookshelf, filled with an improbable combination of volumes, about unimaginably interesting subjects. And one day, you wake to find the bookshelf composed entirely of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code and David Grisham's The Pelican Brief.
The idea of food as art, the idea of regional specialty. The idea of tradition and constant invention. The idea of food as exploration. But to suggest that real cheese is a vital component of human culture can be deemed snobbish. What is culture anyway, and does anybody have the right to suggest what is and isn't?
Culture is that barrier man has built for himself against the chaos of nature. It is the weeded garden, the composed yard, the hybridized specimens growing in the sun. It is the good things in humanity that separates us from the monkeys. It is tradition and dynamic invention. A tug of war between old ideas and new ones. When humans reject part of that balance between the old and new, they flounder. Their so-called gardens become filled with weeds.
Culture can only be defined by healthy societies over time. One thing you often hear from Americans on the subject of Europe is this statement: "They have more culture there." The statement is nonsense, because old buildings have nothing to do with culture. Culture is created by the choices that people make in the present.
This modern conflict is a circumstance St. Deuberex Montclair could never have predicted. In 1910 when he wrote his 'Cheese Travels', processed cheese had not yet been invented. At the same time, Montclair would not have imagined the incredible progress in new artisanal cheeses from Vermont, California, New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania. Small farmhouse cheeses, complete new inventions.
However, the five cheeses that lay to our north were lauded by Montclair. Back then in 1910, all five probably tasted about the same as they do now.