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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5 Responses to “Cheese Slang, pt 3: Cheese-eaters, Yankees, Cheese-heads”


  1. 1 Paula November 16, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    When I worked at a cheese counter, we’d always give mimolette to people who didn’t know much about cheese–mostly because the facts that went along with it would make them look cool at a tasting party.

    I once recommended it to someone and, while giving the spiel, totally blanked on Charles de Gaulle. One of my coworkers helpfully supplied “Jon Bon Jovi” instead.

    From then on, mimolette was Jon Bon Jovi’s favorite cheese. Hope you like cheese mites, Jon.

  2. 2 Dave November 16, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    Edam=crossword puzzle cheese

  3. 3 Adrienne November 17, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    Monks do all kinds of outlandish things to mortify their flesh through food – and not all of them require eschewing fish! At least, that can be confirmed if the high-end grocer in Seattle with whom I once conversed, in 2002, can be deemed a trusty source.

    But I digress.

    Apparently, fishermen in the Northwest Atlantic used to catch some horrifying monstrosities, and toss those most monstrous and least marketable to the unwashed public over the walls of monasteries. This led to the name Monkfish being applied to a really horrifying common specimen:

    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/art2001/monkfish540.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/recreational/articles/monkfish.html&h=405&w=540&sz=47&tbnid=iNfp6chW9pEJ::&tbnh=99&tbnw=132&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dmonk%2Bfish&usg=__xMC6hvTv0fw2HKM9VvcMr_YVcgE=&sa=X&oi=image_result&resnum=4&ct=image&cd=1

    A mother couldn’t love that face.

  4. 4 David November 17, 2008 at 10:39 pm

    I forwarded this on to my Dutch-American senior manager De Heer Vanravenswaay or “Big V” (as we sometimes call him) hoping that he won’t be offended but instead this could possibly give me the upper hand during the January promotion period.

    If I am successful, Dave, expect some farmstead Grayson or a cheese of your choosing!

  5. 5 Chip November 18, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Adrienne, that is one ugly fishface. You and Dave know, of course, that monkfish is sometimes called the “poor man’s lobster”–part of the effort to raise its status from trash-fish to respectable-fish. But perhaps Dave, even, doesn’t know about the Lebanese corn-based “poor-man’s cheese”:

    “Their Kechek el fouqara or ‘poor man’s cheese’, in fact uses no milk and is produced using corn fermented in water. It is also called Jebnet el burghol (burghul cheese). It was a very common product until 25 years ago (before the other war), when it was mainly found in the poorest areas in the south of the country, where small farmers often did not even possess a cow.

    The freshly harvested corn is left to ferment in water for at least eight hours and is then cooked in a large pot on a wood fire. After cooking for 4 or 5 hours, it is dried in the sun on large white sheets. At this point it is taken to the mill and made into burghul (fermented, ground corn). Water and salt are then added and it is left to ferment from two to four weeks according to the season. It is then ground, left to ferment for another week and finally worked by hand until a homogenous, elastic mass is obtained.

    The mass can have spices added, such as thyme, cumin, orange blossom, sesame seed, red or black pepper. When the mass is still moist it is shaped into a large ball which is subdivided into small balls. They are then preserved in local extravirgin olive oil. Poor man’s cheese can then be kept for a year or longer.”
    [source: http://www.slowfood.it]

    There are of course many other products called “poor man’s cheese”–such as the cousins of Roquefort that are called the “fromage du pauvre”–but they are usually actual cheeses. This fermented corn-product is *truly* poverty-stricken–and a truer analogue to monkfish in the rhetorical linkage of monkfish (godugly fish)to lobster (merely ominous shellfish).


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