Archive for the 'Prefaces' Category

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 @



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


Blessed Hildegard and the Profiling of Cheese

“Cheese without a rind is like a maiden without shame.” — Italian proverb

To prove that I’m serious, uncomfortably serious,* my first post-proper will take for its subjects two real, reeking, purchasable cheeses — one an Italian classic, the other an American fledgling. It will be my first entry into the “Cheese Profiles” category. It will head the magnificent parade to come. But first, a preface, and an epigraph for the nascent category — as I hope to plant epigraphs wherever I can —


My “Cheese Profiles,” god bless them, are intended to resemble those standard summaries that comprise most of the cheese-resources I’ve encountered: a few brief words about the cheese’s geographical and historical origin, a few more about the mode of production, then a visual description and some tasting notes. Usually there’s a picture. I’m not sure if mine will have pictures yet; but they will have everything else and more. I suppose there’s a spirit behind this practice that has something to do with contemporary “organic” movements and the notion that you might be better off, or healthier, or more ethical or self-actualized the more you know about what you eat. There’s also a spirit of cosmopolite connoisseurship budding in the States that honors the cultivation evident in wellspoken, knowledgeable diners. (Another day I’ll have to compare and contrast, in middleschool style, these sometimes competing, sometimes cooperating American food cultures, as they play out in places like fancy cheese shops.) At the very least, if you’re desperate for purpose, after reading “Cheese Profiles” you’ll have another means of drawing attention to yourself in conversation.

Instead of aligning myself with contemporaries of either camp, or with recent political trends (“It’s COOL to know your food”), I’d prefer today to take up with a perspective more anachronistic, an authority long dead and gone, somebody with that venerable contemptus mundi** that keeps me so cheerful. Today the explanation I’ll provide for writing any “Cheese Profile” at all — as though explanation were needed — will draw upon the Benedictine nun and mystic Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) — aka Hildegardis Bingensis, Blessed Hildegard, Saint Hildegard, Sybil of the Rhine, Hildegard of Bingen — famous for her hymns and visions. In a letter to Daniel, Bishop of Prague, St. Hildegard once wrote,

“The voice of life and salvation says: Why will a person chew on a grape and still wish to remain ignorant of the nature of that grape?”

As everyone knows, Hildegard was writing typologically of the grape that Noah planted after the Deluge dried up — the grape that started the vineyard that led to Noah’s famed drunken nudity (Gen 9:18-27). There’s a lot of theological material there, and trust, gentle reader, that it rends my soul to skip over all the possible sermonizing*** and tedious digressing — but the principle stripped bare is all we need here; so I’ll shuffle to the punchline, taking the Voice of Life and Salvation for my own and asking,

“Why will a person eat of some cheese and still wish to remain ignorant of the nature of that cheese?”

That should be enough for an epigraph. End preface. (There will be more on St. Hildegard later, when I write about the age-old analogy between cheesemaking and babymaking.)

So I’ve digressed, unsalvageably. That promised post on Taleggio and Grayson will have to follow in the next installment.

* “That has been my disease. I was born grave as others syphilitic.”
** Please do examine that link, with sensitive attention to the chosen bible verse.
*** Go here to read Henry Smith’s late 16th C. sermon on Noah’s drunkenness, “a glass wherein all drunkards may behold their beastliness.”

Welcome Address

So here begins an extended effort to inform, edify, enrich and entertain the masses, and myself. Another blog for the swill. This one will simulate focus by professing a single unifying theme: Cheese.

What follows will be an indefinite, probably irregular series of posts all concentrated on the subject of Cheese. We will test the limits of the subject’s endurance, its elasticity, its tensile strength; we will prod its depths and surfaces, shimmy our probes under the skin, dissect the organs. At some point, with regret, we will abandon the whole mess, leaving only shredded carrion too wretched for scavengers. Like the Socratic method, or an old-fashioned martyrdom.

Why would I choose to write on Cheese? A proper explanation would become too personal, too quickly. This is not a diary blog. “If all goes well,” as they say, you will see, you will understand what has attracted my attention, excited my ambition, if you don’t already. For now I can summarize a few points: Cheese is important to me, it is important to America, and it is important to Civilization. Maybe. For known and unknown reasons I enjoy learning about it. And for obvious, irrefutable reasons I enjoy eating it.

I believe there are untapped reserves of enchanting, amusing, innaresting things to be written on Cheese, and I also believe there are reserves of readers who might, or should, want to learn more. Consider Internet lesson #1: No subject is too far left field to win brief allegiance from these strange hordes of networked souls. And Cheese is not even left field. As Battistotti, Bottazzi, Piccainardi, and Volpato have argued, “without cheese Western Man, or many of his number, simply could not have survived as long as he has.”

Despite my respect and goodwill for other cheese blogs I’ve run across, I hope to differentiate my own in a few ways. My initial proscriptive principles, then, will be as follows (perhaps more detailed explanations will come in future posts):

  • I will try to avoid the temptation, widespread today, to peddle in Food Porn — as in the style of unconvincing gush that dominates descriptions of terrior and Farmer’s Markets. It infects modern cheesewriting like a pox. I have no purpose for it here.
  • I will not simply provide another guide to modern cheese consumerism. There are plenty of decent books, magazines, catalogs, and websites that primarily exist to help you buy your cheese. This blog is to be more about sloppy amateur cheese scholarship and dilettante indulgence, maybe some story-telling, and a carnival of curiosities.
  • As I will not limit my treatment of Cheese to its contemporary niche market, the artisanal boom in America, and so on, I also will not restrict Cheese to a subcategory of Wine Culture, under the “pairing” umbrella. I leave that to the glossy books.

There’s what I hope to leave out, provisionally. Here’s what’s to be expected:

  • Essays into the history and cultural significance of Cheese, according to what I can find on the internet and in the library. I want to dig up dusty stuff.
  • Comments on the books and sites about Cheese that I look at.
  • Some tasting and background notes on specific cheeses — as a form of gratification, as a means to inform, as a tangible base, and as a gateway to other things. These notes might also help people buy cheese from stores, if inclined. (And I do encourage cheese-buying.)
  • Learned ruminations on Cheese references literary, philosophical, theological, proverbial, and otherwise. These will be written in armchairs, preferably, while wearing spectacles.
  • General posts on whatever demands or deserves comment.
  • Informational posts intended for nothing more than education, certainly not pleasure.

Finally, I’ll ask anyone who comes across this site to send me comments, questions, suggestions, ideas and anecdotes, cheese references you’ve run across, links cheese-related or otherwise relevant, and so on. Any outside input can only increase my enjoyment, and that’s what really matters here.

This is all meant to be shameless.


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aftercheese @

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