Mental Floss has abducted me

It’s clear now that I will not have time to write for both Mental Floss and this silly (unpaid) cheese blog. So I’m siding with Mental Floss, which sends checks. After Cheese Comes Nothing will be awarded an indefinite hiatus.

Meanwhile, you really should read my Mental Floss articles. Here’s the first regular offering. As you can see, I am no longer restricted to cheese. This bothers me a little, and it might bother you; but maybe it will open broad and beautiful new horizons? I don’t know exactly when my weekly posts will go up, but you can always keep checking, or bookmark my author page or something like that. The internet should be able to figure out a way to help you. Consider this a change of address, friends.

Mental Floss Guest Cheese-Blogging

The story is:

I have a little piece about cheese changing the lives of holy women that’s going to be published in an upcoming edition of mental_floss magazine.

Besides that, I have five Guest Blog post going up this week on the mental_floss webpage. That’s one for every day of the week. Which means three have already comes out. Here they are:

You may read them, if you’d like. Everything on the internet is voluntary. There’s more to come tomorrow and Friday — something about cheese mites and something else about something else.

You might notice I’ve had to make some adjustments in tone and breadth for this legitimate enterprise. No Bert and Ernie, yet. But it’s gone well. And I’m not sure when I’ll be posting here next, still, because I’ll probably be doing some more writing for them in the near future. 

Let’s just wait and see.

Pending

I realize I haven’t informed the curious, if there are any, of the reason for this recent dearth of posts. It’s good news.

I’m working on some pieces for publication, along the lines of what I’ve been doing here — a little shorter — containing some of what you’ll find below, and some new material — all written afresh. New words!

So: I’ll link to those pieces when they’re out. And we’ll see what happens from there.

Beckett and Joyce on Gorgonzola Cheese

Now, at last, for a literary interlude, I must offer two passages from Irish modernist prose, both of which feature Gorgonzola as their creamy centers.

Beckett’s More Pricks Than Kicks — his first published prose fiction, if I remember right (1934) — is something like a collection of short stories centered on the character Belacqua. Burning toast to an indigestible blackness is part of the refined, almost scientific lunchtime routine for this obsessive and compulsive youth; after which he sets out for the rotten cheese to complement: Gorgonzola.

Now the great thing was to avoid being accosted. To be stopped at this stage and have conversational nuisance committed all over him would be a disaster. His whole being was straining forward towards the joy in store. If he were accosted now he might just as well fling his lunch into the gutter and walk straight back home. Sometimes his hunger, more of mind, I need scarcely say, than of body, for this meal amounted to such a frenzy that he would not have hesitated to strike any man rash enough to buttonhole and baulk him, he would have shouldered him out of his path without ceremony. Woe betide the meddler who crossed him when his mind was really set on his meal.

He threaded his way rapidly, his head bowed, through the familiar labyrinth of lanes and suddenly dived into a little family grocery. In the shop they were not surprised. Most days, about this hour, he shot in off the street in this way.

The slab of cheese was prepared. Separated since morning from the piece, it was only waiting for Belacqua to call and take it. Gorgonzola cheese. He knew a man who came from Gorgonzola, his name was Angelo. He had been born in Nice but all his youth had been spent in Gorgonzola. He knew where to look for it. Every day it was there, in the same corner, waiting to be called for. They were very decent obliging people.

He looked sceptically at the cut of cheese. He turned it over on its back to see was the other side any better. The other side was worse. They had laid it better side up, they had practised that little deception. Who shall blame them? He rubbed it. It was sweating. That was something. He stopped and smelt it. A faint fragrance of corruption. What good was that? He didn’t want fragrance, he wasn’t a bloody gourmet, he wanted a good stench. What he wanted was a good green stenching rotten lump of Gorgonzola cheese, alive, and by God he would have it.

He looked fiercely at the grocer.

‘What’s that?’ he demanded.

The grocer writhed.

‘Well?’ demanded Belacqua, he was without fear when roused, ‘is that the best you can do?’

‘In the length and breadth of Dublin,’ said the grocer, ‘you won’t find a rottener bit this minute.’

Belacqua was furious. The impudent dogsbody, for two pins he would assault him.

‘It won’t do,’ he cried, ‘do you hear me, it won’t do at all. I won’t have it.’ He ground his teeth.

The grocer, instead of simply washing his hands like Pilate, flung out his arms in a wild crucified gesture of supplication. Sullenly Belacqua undid his packet and slipped the cadaverous tablet of cheese between the hard cold black boards of the toast. He stumped to the door where he whirled round however.

‘You heard me?’ he cried.

‘Sir’ said the grocer. This was not a question, nor yet an expression of acquiescence. The tone in which it was let fall made it quite impossible to know what was in the man’s mind. It was a most ingenious riposte.

‘I tell you’ said Belacqua with great heat ‘this won’t do at all. If you can’t do better than this’ he raised the hand that held the packet ‘I shall be obliged to go for my cheese elsewhere. Do you mark me?’

‘Sir’ said the grocer.

And now, from Joyce’s Ulysses: Leopold Bloom considers lunch, while struggling to keep his mind off his wife’s approaching adultery. He’s troubled by the carnivorous gluttony of his fellow customers (“Eat or be eaten. Kill! Kill!”), and so shuns beef for the moment. Almost settles on a sardine — the last lonely sardine of summer — but then asks at last for a Gorgonzola sandwich. Some critics, the Bloomlovers, consider his decision a sensitive compromise between the thesis of bloody meat and the antithesis of flimsy vegetarianism: a synthesis in the form of an animal food that does not entail the death of the animal. Richard Ellmann, who wrote the fat Joyce biography you will find at your bookstore, thought a Gorgonzola sandwich was the best existential choice, “because cheese is neither vegetable nor meat: it is formed from mammal’s milk without slaughter, and enclosed in bread which is vegetable in origin but reconstructed by man.” And what does Bloom think?

Kosher. No meat and milk together. Hygiene that was what they call now. Yom Kippur fast spring cleaning of inside. Peace and war depend on some fellow’s digestion. Religions. Christmas turkeys and geese. Slaughter of innocents. Eat drink and be merry. Then casual wards full after. Heads bandaged. Cheese digests all but itself. Mitey cheese.

Not the most immediately decipherable passage — but very nice, I think, and potent. Later, Bloom’s stream of consciousness dwells on

the feety savour of green cheese.

Ah yes.

Pervert.

Gorgonzola for the Busty Lady?

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Giotto's depiction of Envy: eats snakes backwards and wears fire for shoes.

Gorgonzola is another stracchino cheese, like Taleggio: it’s made from the milk of “tired” cows, coming down from the highs of their summer grazing in the Alps, on top of the world. (The curious may wish to read my post on Taleggio.) It used to be called “green stracchino,” generically, before it was named “Gorgonzola, “ after its alleged town-of-origin. At my home, we prefer to call it “the weeping green-eyed beast” — an epithet that bears no relation to the Green-Eyed Monster of Envy (that most deadly of deadly sins, “which doth mock the meat it feeds on,” according to Shakespeare, and makes you look like a leek left too long in the sun, according to William Langland).

In addition to the love-stricken swain tale (recited here), Gorgonzola boasts another origin-legend of folly, anxiety, and unexpected redemption. The story goes that a Gorgonzola-area innkeeper dealt in stracchino, before any stracchinos were green; and one day he discovered, to his horror, that much of his cheese stash had fallen ill with a greenish mold. After some deliberation the innkeeper decided — whether out of maudlin desperation or weasel-cunning — to push the green cheese on his customers. He called it a new food masterpiece, a culinary delicacy, a spectacle of local culture; he flourished all the old tricks of the confidence-man cheesemonger. His customers ate, unsuspecting, and they loved it. (They don’t always.) News of the new green cheese spread, and a regional wonder was born.

This would have been somewhere between the 9th and 11th centuries, probably. In the 1950s and 60s, low-quality imitators and foreign devils threatened the reputation of Gorgonzola — as well as the businesses of decent, traditional cheesemakers. So name-protection was granted in 1955 and a Consortium for the Protection of Gorgonzola Cheese was created in 1970. The cheese’s production is now restricted to Lombary and Piedmont; the method (a slightly unusual one) is now standardized, a little industrialized, as much as the Consortium decided it needed to be.

Visit the Consortium’s web page for more information on production — and also, more urgently, to see Italy’s new line-up of Gorgonzola Babes! A collage of photos, fading in and out over the title bar, consists of images you’d expect on the covers of romance novels and Cosmopolitan, images you might want to hide under your mattress. The marketing model for Gorgonzola seems to be “Glamor, Romance, and Cleavage.” Not an uncommon model . . . and no less apt for cheese than for watches and chewing gum, I suppose. Consider this ad I found, a mild example:


I prefer not to know what’s being said. I did find out, though, that “topolona” means “chick” in colloquial parlance, “big female mouse” more literally. “You beautiful big mother of rodents, you. You chubby, cheese-crazed mouse matron. Have some Gorgonzola, my pudgy, bucktoothed, primeval pest. And show me your mammaries — at least the tops, please. Or the sides.”

Gorgonzola can be bought young and sweet, dolce, or aged and piquant, piccante or naturale. I’ve had more experience with the dolce, and it’s a strikingly unique flavor: a lingering blue mold bite; a creamy white paste that melts like ice cream in your mouth; a honey-and-fruit sweetness that hits the higher tones on your palate. I haven’t had other blues much like it. (The closest I have had is a very fine and no less unique American rehashing called Oregonzola, made at Rogue River Creamery in Oregon.)

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Coat of arms of the Comune di Gorgonzola. To explain the symbolism: There is a piece of green cheese on top of the tower, as in life. The lions are racing. Both lions love green cheese, like good and brave people should. The Monarch watches over, and approves.

Graukäse photos by Mr. FX

Taking a brief detour from all that Gorgonzola jabber —

Anyone with any interest in:

1. Peasant cheeses

2. Ancient cheeses

3. Farmstead or home kitchen cheesemaking

4. Shapely wooden kitchen utensils (now your mouth must be watering, your head spinning, your fluids leaking . . .)

should take a few minutes to look at Mr. FX’s recent photo essay on farmstead Graukäse. This “primeval” cheese of Tyro demands no fancy techno-industrial hoohaw and gadgetry — not even rennet. The raw milk, left to sit, curdles itself and cultivates its own bacterial garden. But Mr. FX has already said what needs to be said in his post. So I will get back to making Thanksgiving pies and cultivating my holiday paunch.

Lovesickness in Blue Cheese Legends

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The Great Blue Heron: P. roqueforti of the wetlands.

Roquefort and Gorgonzola manifest the two strains of blue mold, Penicillium roqueforti and Penicillium glaucum, in their most traditional and famous forms. They may be the oldest blue cheeses, the prototypes; but they’re still around, eaten daily. Not dinosaurs. Perhaps they are to blue cheese what Plato and Aristotle are to philosophy (supposedly), or mice and weasels to mammals-in-general.

If we take these two as the primeval predecessors of all blue cheese — then where did they come from? How did humans (more specifically, the French and Italians) finally figure it out, the Great Blue Secret? The stories are surprisingly similar. Actually, according to prominent versions of these legends, they are surprisingly exactly the same:

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The Great Blue Hole.

A young and amorous dairyman, with the stolidity of a lobotomized labrador, abandons his milk (or cheese) to chase tail, as they say — to slobber and gape at the local sirens. When he comes back, having carved his love-blather on a thousand trunks and who knows what else, the milk (or cheese) has changed, and so has his world: during the young man’s absence a Great Blue Secret was bestowed on his milk (or cheese). As fearless as he is lascivious, the youth does not throw out his altered meal, but nourishes it, even reproduces it. And so: Blue Cheese!

I’ll allow for a little more specificity — but not much:

Roquefort: In Rouergue, France, a shepherd enslaved to Cupid leaves his lunch of cheese and rye in a limestone Cave of Combalou, so that he may pursue the village beauties with two free hands for pawing. Days later he remembers that cheese in the cave — maybe he repented of his carnal concupiscence and his faculties were restored, miraculously, or he realized that cheese was all along a better friend to him than hussies, always so self-sacrificing . . .  Either way, the shepherd curses his birth and returns, only to find a strange blue growth on his cheese nugget, a colony extended from the moldy bread. He eats the cheese anyway, out of curiosity (or hoping it’s poison and he’ll expire at last, proving the depth of his romantic spirit); his tongue touches blue and he has an epiphany; Roquefort is born.

(Rye bread encourages the growth of the blue mold natural to those Caves of Combalou. It  was used later — stale, moldy rye, I mean — to cultivate P. roqueforti for the soon-famous local cheese.)

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The Great Blue Turaco: The Largest Turaco.

Gorgonzola: In the foothills of northern Italy, in or near the town of Gorgonzola, a similarly distracted cheesemaker ditches his evening batch to rendezvous with a lover. (They pass a horrible night, all awkward missteps leading to bickering, silence and hurrumphs. Thank heaven for sunrise. As the swain returns to his cheese, he vows never to love again. That’s how I like to imagine it.) At dawn, hoping to conceal his negligence, the penitent dairyman ladles new morning curd atop the old, ripe evening milk — which has accumulated strange blue patches. He goes through with the cheesemaking process, despite the blue, and is later delighted to discover that he prefers this new, tainted concoction to whatever he was making before.

Moral: Bitter love makes better cheese.

Ugh.

(Mixing evening and morning milk is one key aspect of traditional Gorgonzola production. Along with cursing your cativa lover.)

What makes you so blue?

 

Every better future that one wishes for mankind is also necessarily a worse future in some respects, for it is fanatical to believe that a new, higher stage of mankind would unite all the merits of earlier stages and would, for example, also have to produce the highest form of art [cheese]. Rather, each season has its own merits and charms, and excludes those of the other seasons.

– Fritz Nietzsche

Another variation on the usual method: I’m going to start addressing reader comments, when the fancy strikes (and rest assured that my responding or not responding bears no relation to my opinion on the value of a comment: it’s all caprice and vagary, determined more by digestion and moon cycles than Sovereign Reason). As the topic I’m aiming at now is Gorgonzola (a blue cheese), my starting point will be a comment responding to the stories of Margaret Mary Alacoque’s cheese-eating asceticism and Daniel Defoe spooning cheese mites off his early-modern Stilton (another blue cheese):

I’ve never seen stilton covered in mites… And I have certainly never been blessed with visions of Christ as a result of eating cheese. Maybe the good cheeses were fewer and farther between, but was the best Old World stilton leaps and bounds ahead of today’s best? Have we sacrificed punctuated quality for consistent mediocrity? You focus on the low-end of cheeses, but what about the high? Was Mary tripping on mold or blissed out on a small slice of heaven?

And what kind of cheese am I actually eating in my blue cheese dressing?

1. It’s not unusual that you haven’t seen any Stilton covered in mites. Few sheltered contemporaries have. Times are tougher for cheese mites — one of the ecological cruelties of the modern age. But I’ve read in the weeklies they are banding together in unions and demanding the right to return to public view, without shame. They wear red scarves around their bug-waists to signal solidarity. Until their cry is heard (which will require the most sensitive ears), you can see cheese mites on Stilton in the first nature documentary of all time!, called “Cheese Mites” (1903). (I have to link to BBC because I can’t figure out how to embed this one, if it’s even possible.)

(There is no narration, because there was no David Attenborough, and without Attenborough there’s just no point.)

And if you haven’t seen God yet — believe me, you’re the last — here He is, too:

 

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God appears for your personal vision.

2. In “Curse Cheese, and Die” I wasn’t suggesting that Old World cheese was bad in the Old Days, just that some people had problems with it — found it “extremely lowly, offensive and excremental” (Lotichius), or considered it a symbol of death and decay (the original Yorick’s Skull). I don’t know how it tasted. Some people did like it, I think; and whatever cranky writers griped about, people kept on making cheese, undaunted. Was the best Old World Stilton better than ours? (Remember Sebastian the Crab’s pièce de résistance — “The seaweed is always greener …”) Probably in some ways, not so in others. And insofar as artisanal cheesemakers try to blend the virtues of the old (like raw milk, smaller batches, and handmade care) with the new (like improvements in technology, consistency, and control), there’s a good chance that we’re now able to eat the best cheese of all time. And wouldn’t that be gratifying.

For the curious, there’s a cheese sold now called Stichelton that may be closer to the Stilton-original that Defoe found crusted with mites at the Bell Inn, since it’s handmade with raw instead of pasteurized milk. It’s called Stichelton because English law dictates, after a hasty 1996 decision, that name-protected “Stilton” must come from pasteurized milk. If you eat it, you will enjoy it, you may swoon or speak in tongues, but you will not be able to pay your bills and will be reduced in your old age to collecting recyclables.

3. Finally: What kind of cheese is blue cheese?

Blue cheese is blue because it is infested with blue bacteria. There’s no curse upon it, at least none of consequence. The most famous of these tiny beasts is Penicillium roqueforti, originally used to make Roquefort, the most famous French blue; now used to make most all blue cheeses. The other popular strain is Penicillium glaucum, which is found in the milk-jungles of Gorgonzola. These molds began their world-conquests from isolated caves in France and Italy: local aberrations uncovered by chance or Providence, captured and enslaved for the service of humanity. (They probably don’t miss their cave homes terribly: everybody was so quiet, slow, and blind.) These molds viciously defend their terrain, fending off less cheese-worthy breeds of bacteria — the kinds that rot cheese and people alike. And the reason blue cheeses are streaked or blotchy is that the blue molds thrive with exposure to air; so at some point in the maturing process a cheesemaker will pierce the fledging blue with a long needle, providing the mold with tracks of open air to crowd and congest with its piquant flesh. (Some blues are crumbly and porous enough that piercing isn’t necessary.)

 

I’ve already spoiled the “short” part of the “frequent and short entries” ambition, so I’m abandoning the path here. I’ll try to adjust.

Bold New Tactics

I am going to venture a new approach this week. Not that the old approach wasn’t “working” — as there never was a stated goal to “work” towards — but I know that it’s uncommon, unpopular, and unwise to deliver such long entries on the Internet; that most people look to the web for nuggets and scraps to fill minutes between meetings and groans, or breakfast and toilet, while entrusting magazines, newspapers, books, and religious pamphlets with lengthy, involved writing; that more frequent and shorter posts would please some of my friends; and that tangled 19th century-style sentences riddled with semicolons have no future in an era when style is dominated by marketing tactics used to cajole ditzes and nincompoops. Basta. SO: I am going to split what could be long entries into series of shorter blurts, spaced over time instead of presented all at once. We’ll see how it goes.

After you’ve been exposed to both approaches, if you would like to, feel free to tell me which you prefer by emailing: aftercheese @ gmail.com.

 

werer

Second Great Seal of the United States. Translates to: "God has favored the work"; "A new order of the ages"

 

Cheese Slang, pt 3: Cheese-eaters, Yankees, Cheese-heads

One more cheese slang post, and it’s over.

The Dutch have long been associated with dairy: Dutch cows, Dutch dairymaids, Dutch butter, Dutch cheese. It’s good cow land in the Low Countries; and the Vikings brought good cows, way back. So the Dutch have exported cheese since the Middle Ages, and their industry boomed during the Age of Exploration, or Discovery, or Colonization, or whatever it was. Wherever Dutch ships went they brought Dutch cheese. (The Netherlands is still, despite its shamefully tiny size, one of the world leaders in cheese exports.)

And what

And what do Dutch dairymaids do in their spare time? Why, enjoy the seductive advances of pointy-chined misers.

One consequence of all this is that the Dutch have, due to the mean-spiritedness of man, gathered a few cheese-related nicknames.

CHEESE-EATER

Today, this epithet only offends criminal lowlife, to whom “cheese-eater” means “rat,” which means “informer.” In the past, Catholics threw it disparagingly at Dutch Protestants. Why? Because the Dutch Protestants were calling the Catholics “fish-eaters” — and such a wild assault deserved the kind of swift and brutal retaliation that only another mighty insult, like “cheese-eater,” could inflict. Words are truly the most vicious weapons.

Catholics had some reason to be sensitive to the “fish-eater” insult. One of the points that set Catholic humans apart from Protestant humans was their Friday fast. This fast had evolved over centuries into the practice of No Meat Fridays: the Catholics didn’t forgo food altogether, just gave up the luxury of meat, to please God and/or themselves in various ways. And meat was a luxury, indeed, requiring money to buy or land to raise. Fish, however, was not a luxury, since all you needed to eat till your ears bled was a donut and a fishing line. Or, better yet, Ernie’s fish call:

Besides, everybody knows that Jesus loved fish, at least as much as he loved God, his neighbor, sinners, and everything else. He loved fish so much he used his magic to unnaturally multiply them. So for Catholic devotees No Meat Fridays became Fish Fridays — only one vital step away from Friday Fish Fries.

For monks No Meat Days were not confined to Fridays, since everything has to be harder for a monk; and it’s been suggested that monks developed their exquisitely meaty monastic cheeses — of the washed-rind variety — to keep their meals flavorful and satisfying despite the deprivation they suffered, for God’s sake, with their intermittent-vegetarianism. And this makes the Catholic retaliation of “cheese-eater” all the more ridiculous, because cheese-eating in no way set Protestants apart from any Europeans, especially not Catholics.

fdf

You might not be able to tell, but that's Judas in Satan's mouth, receiving his just desserts.

The reason they fast on Friday, as I understand it, includes the following: In early Christian communities, Jewish converts sometimes felt uncomfortable abandoning all of their sacred rituals and habits; so the semiweekly Jewish fast days were absorbed into Christianity, to calm everyone down. Wednesday and Friday were chosen because the ultimate “cheese-eater” Judas (may Satan chomp him eternally) ratted Christ out on Wednesday, and then Christ was crucified on Friday. Sad days for all — but especially for those who believe/d Christ is/was God. Then Friday just took precedence over Wednesday, I guess. I became tired of researching at this point.

ARTOTYRITES: THE ORIGINAL CHEESE-EATERS

So when the Dutch Protestants called Catholics fish-eaters, the Catholics felt the sting; and they retorted with “cheese-eater.” For the Catholic Church this insult has a history, as an accusation of heresy — as I’ve mentioned before. The Church Father Epiphanius (4th c. AD) accused a heretical sect of mixing cheese into the bread and wine of communion (making a bougie wine-and-cheese party out of every Sunday). In his Panarion, Epiphanius calls these heretics the Artotyrites, aka “cheese-eaters” (literally translated as “bread and cheese”)– but they were also known as Phrygians, or Quintillianists, or Pepuzians, or Priscillianists (hold on to all that), and in addition to cutting cheese at the Lord’s table they also, and no less heretically, believed that Christ turned into a woman to have a lesbian encounter with their prophetess founder, Priscilla or Quintilla, in the town of Pepuza; that Eve was decent, and Moses’ sister was a prophetess; that women could be priests; and that “In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female.” Clearly, as Epiphanius is quick to point out, “they have overlooked the command of the apostle, ‘I suffer not a woman to speak, or to have authority over a man,’ and again, ‘The man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man’” — which today we know are rather nasty things to say, but apostles are not to be second-guessed. St. Augustine later equated these Artotyrites with the Montanists, righty or wrongly. You can guess what happened to the Montanists: there aren’t many around today . . .

Enough about “cheese-eaters.”

JOHN CHEESE

Jan and Kaas were both common Dutch first names. Sometimes they were combined in the same person, a Jan Kass, and sometimes used as nicknames. The frequency of these names led Flemish mockers with lazy tongues to call all the Dutch Jan Kaas, which can translate literally into “John Cheese.” This was, of course, an insult, as most cross-cultural nicknames are; until the Dutch “appropriated” the term, as they say, and started flinging Jan Kaas at the English. What had the poor English to do with any of this? They were calling the Dutch mean names, too: never presume innocence. They deserved the retaliation. And so it is that the name John Cheese, applied to New England colonials, may have served through mispronunciation or accented-confusion as the source for the famous American title “Yankee” (which was, again, a term of derision at first, then was “appropriated” during the Revolution).

There are some real people named John Cheese today, like this man, who “is fat and afraid of women.” Then there’s John Cleese, the Monty Python performer, who’s so close to real thing that one imagines his parents just left off the hook of the “h” while scribbling on his birth papers. Despite that original accident, John Cleese has proven his affection for cheese in this skit:

*

Non-Dutch Interlude

“Cheese” also refers to a mixture of drugs in Tylenol PM and heroin that, when snorted, will make you “euphoric, and then sleepy, lethargic, and hungry.” They started making it in Dallas, where everyone’s sleepy, lethargic, and hungry anyway, so they’re more than pleased to add euphoria to the day and have nothing to lose with the comedown.

*

THE ORIGINAL CHEESE-HEAD

Before Brett-Favre-Greatest-American-Alltime-Hero-Way-Better-Than-Obama, before the Packers, “cheese-heads” were just common Dutchmen.

dutch-sailor

Edam cheese seems responsible. From the 14th to the 18th century, it was arguably the most popular cheese in the world, I hear. It was first made near Edam in North Holland, possibly in the 12th century, and has been known by local names such as Manbollen, Katzenkopf, and Tete de Maure. At my home, its referred to as Manzenaure, Boltzentete, and Kravencaes. Enemies of the Dutch called Edam cheeses “cannonballs” sometimes, because it was alleged that the Dutch would shoot these ball-shaped cheeses on foreign ships after they ran out of heavy metal balls to shoot.

Edam’s a washed-curd cheese (not washed-rind), which means that the curds are washed in hot water before they are salted. (It’s a mystery even to Neville McNaughton why the Dutch would start doing such ac crazy thing.) Washed-curd cheeses tend to be mild, sweet, pliable, and they mature slowly — which was an advantage to Dutch sea-goers, who needed a cheese that would not rot on long voyages; that would, instead, just get better and better. To protect their Edams on long voyages, Dutch sailors would wrap the cheeses in cloth soaked in wax and herbs, then hang the bag over a vat of horse manure. (Juliet Harbutt shares this fact, but of course can’t explain why that happened either. Food history is a realm of fogs and mirages.) Ammonia exuded by the heap of turd would redden the cloth. And that, dear friends, is why Edam today is wrapped in red wax.

For the home-cheesemaking hobbyist, the only way to “authentically” age an Edam at home is, of course, to forgo your toilet when you feel the old dark urge, and instead fill up over a period of weeks your own vat of excrement; then hang the cheese above it. If you live in an apartment, I recommend using a porch or patio for this.

I bought a piece of supermarket Edam from Wisconsin, and I found what I expect: unobtrusive, even too shy, with a familiar, brightly “cheesey” taste. Put it on white bread, pay close attention, and you might notice some pleasant tang. I’m sure things are different with farmhouse Edam from the Netherlands; but I don’t have any farmhouse Edam from the Netherlands.

I can, however, get good aged Mimolette, and so can you. It still comes in cannonball form, with a hard crust for a rind made porous by cheesemites. Mimolette is in fact a copy of Edam. By the 17th century, Edam was so overwhelmingly loved and enjoyed in France that the Sun King became jealous. So he banned its import from Holland and prompted his subjects to make their own Edam-style cheese. They made Mimolette, and everything turned out fine; but those Frenchmen probably weren’t happy about it, not at first. Hence the French Revolution.

De Gaulle

De Gaulle, who loved Mimolette and hated traitors.

Find aged Mimollete and eat it; it will be dark orange (dyed with annatto) and hard, with fruity, nutty, butterscotchy and caramely flavors. But don’t take my word for it: Charles de Gaulle loved it, and he’s a famous historical figure!

The “cannonball” shape of old Edam (and Mimolette, though it’s twice as large) entailed the use of semispherical wooden cheese forms that were also used, at some point, as Dutch riot helmets. These were the original “cheese-heads”: angry rioters. (I can’t figure out when these improvised helmets were used, precisely; but I hope it was during the Bread and Cheese Wars of the 1490s, when the Hooks battled the Cods because people were hungry.)

THE MODERN CHEESE-HEAD

Dutch immigrants were called “cheese-heads” by the cruel and malicious; and many of these Dutch settled in Wisconsin. The insult continued, but the “cheese-head” was not positively associated with the Green Bay Packers until recently. A man named Ralph Bruno invented the modern cheese-head by shredding the upholstery of his mother’s couch, cutting out a triangle, burning holes in it, and painting it yellow. He wore his new cap to a Milwaukee Brewer’s game in 1987. Surprised and intrigued by the cheerful response — something like “Cool cheese-head man!” I’m sure — Bruno heard the calling of entrepreneurship, and marketing began. Bruno is now Foamation’s Father of Fromage and an object of reverence, having transformed a cruel racial insult into a silly hat.


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