Posts Tagged 'Cheese Slang'

Cheese Slang, pt 2: Portuguese and the Pastoral

“I want my illustrations for Dante to be like the faint markings of moisture in a divine cheese . . . Mysticism is cheese; Christ is cheese, better still, mountains of cheese!” — Salvador Dalí

Now that we’ve learned a few ways to demean and insult women with cheese slang, the next step in the course of nature is to broaden our affronts to races and nations. So what are some cheese-related racial slurs?


First, there’s “pork and cheese,” a pet name for the Portuguese that probably originated in the gas-choked trenches of the first World War. The phrase has nothing to do with what Portuguese soldiers ate; it’s just simple rhyming slang. Like “nanny goat” as a stand-in for “throat,” or “Winona Ryder” for “cider” — or just about every word in Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake standing-in for three or four words from various languages:

This in fact, just to show you, is Caseous, the brutherscutch or puir tyron: a hole or two, the highstinks aforefelt and anygo prigging wurms. Cheesugh! you complain. And Hi Hi High must say you are not Hoa Hoa Hoally in the wrong!

. . . which is when puns and rhyming slang get out of hand. (Worse than Aristotle? Maybe not.)

Apparently, “pork and cheese” was most freely used by the New Zealand soldiery. Who could have guessed — the Kiwis?! of all people —

I’m not sure if “pork and cheese” was originally offensive, intentionally or otherwise. We’d like to imagine it was all brotherly trench-talk, jocular word play. Wouldn’t we. Just a jumble of pork and cheese (Portuguese), Mary Anns (Americans), icky fish (English), baseball showers (Central Powers), and the rest of the gang. And we’d like to imagine that the whole World War was just a barroom jostle, punch-in-the-shoulder fun; that nationalism was a passing joke; and that human beings weren’t vile and godless monsters, on the whole. (“The Cruel Animal,” as Mark Twain defines us.)*

It turns out they are.


. . . and then the monsters made monster trucks.

. . . and then the monsters made monster trucks.


(I’ll mention that cheese might have sparked the first World War, if indirectly.)


Portuguese man . . . or imposter?

Portuguese man . . . or imposter?

But whatever its original import, I gather that “pork and cheese” is not considered “brotherly” or “fun” by now. Do not experiment with this phrase, teach it to children, or send it by company email. Urban Dictionary tells me that “If portuguse people are called pork and cheese they’ll kick ur fricken ass or pull out some pork and cheese and make u eat it.” (The first half does sound like a punishment, though the second’s a little reassuring.) Another entry claims the phrase is not derogatory on its own; however, the example provided is, “There are a lot of Pork ‘n’ Cheese living over here these days” — which doesn’t sound very neutral or anodyne to me. But I’m no expert. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a Portuguese man in my life. Even if I had, he could have been an imposter.


I have read at least one Portuguese author: Fernando Pessoa. And what does Fernando Pessoa say? “I’m not a pessimist. I’m sad.” I’d like to quote more, but I’ll restrict my selections to footnotes to protect the uninterested.**


There is a Mexican restaurant near my home that serves a delicious heap of pork smothered in melted cheese. So people aren’t all bad.

The Heap has nothing to do with Portugal, I think.


The Portuguese do eat pork, like the rest of us, and they have and do make cheese — although, like the Spanish, they haven’t exported much until recently. There aren’t too many Portuguese cheeses — not the variety of France or Italy — just a modest number of well-crafted, small production affairs; and they’re usually sheep or goat’s milk, no doubt due to terrain. Two of the more famous varieties that I’ve seen in stores are São Jorge and Castelo Branco. The first is one of Portugal’s rare cow’s milk cheeses, made on the volcano-island São Jorge, of the Azores chain. It is lightly tangy and peppery, firm but crumbly. The second, Castelo Branco, is a sheep’s milk cheese from the mainland, which features the potent aroma of grass and raw poultry accompanying a piquant, buttery, nicely acidic flavor-crescendo. I can more enthusiastically recommend Castelo Branco, having eaten more of it myself. (And I’m the only one I can trust, so far.)

Also, there’s a Wisconsin-made variation of Castelo Branco made at Hidden Springs Creamery, called Ocooch Mountain. It’s a beefy, full, and earthy washed-rind cheese with a very long taste. As with Grayson, the ethics and aesthetics of American artisan cheesemaking are important for Ocooch Mountain. You’re buying and eating the idea, as much as anything. What is the idea? I don’t have a Hidden Springs mission statement on hand, but I can surmise.

The Creamery is a small sheep dairy of sustainable intentions in southwest Wisconsin’s Amish farm country. The sheep are East Friesian (a highly productive breed) and Lacaune (with richer milk, well-known as the udders behind France’s Roquefort); and all the milking and cheesemaking is done seasonally, by hand, with minimal modern technology. The owners even dug out their own natural cave for aging. “The idea,” then, is vitally tied to the poetry and symbolism of the ancient Pastoral Ideal — and if you’re not convinced: the herd is guarded by donkeys. I suppose the practice isn’t unusual (and if you want some tips on how to manage your own guard donkey, the Texas Department of Agriculture can help), so it’s very urbanly-ignorant of me to be shocked and amazed — but there must be something about donkeys and sheep living together in St. John’s Apocalypse, it’s just too shockingly idyllic.

Few things make me more eager to forgo petty city pleasures and take to the hills than the thought that I might, eventually, tend a herd of sheep guarded by a donkey. And I quote Don Quixote:

I should like, O Sancho, for us to become shepherds . . . . I shall buy some sheep, and all the other things needed for the pastoral exercise, and my name will be Shepherd Quixotiz and yours Shepherd Pancino, and we shall roam the mountains, the woods, and the meadows, singing here, lamenting there, drinking the liquid crystals of the fountains, or the limpid streams, or the rushing rivers. With a copious hand the oaks will give us their sweetest fruit; the hard cork trees, their trunks as seats; the willows, their shade; the roses, their fragrance; the broad meadows, carpets a thousand shades and colors; the clear, pure air, our breath; the moon and stars, our light in spite of night’s darkness; pleasure will give us our songs; joy, our weeping; Apollo, our verses; love, our conceits; and with these we shall make ourselves eternal and famous, not only in the present but in times to come.***


Love and sheep.

Love and sheep.


I’ll admit that American artisanal cheese is much too American and too post-60s to be associated with all the implications of the European Pastoral Ideal of yore — but significant essentials remain intact, especially for the well-to-do urban consumer looking in from outside, reading labels and web-pages. Someday I’ll have to think and write more about American pastoralism and the aesthetic of artisan cheese. Not today: do you see how I’ve babbled already? Also, before I do I’m sure I’ll have to check out a book from the library, something written by an English or American Studies professor, entitled “The Marrow of Life”: American Pastoralism from Henry Thoreau to Artisan Cheese — or something like that, with a special chapter on donkeys guarding sheep — because it’s unacceptable to have an opinion these days without muddling everything with “research” first — which is one reason I rarely have opinions.

Sheep’s milk cheese hasn’t quite caught on yet in the States. The index of the 2007 Atlas of American Cheese has three pages devoted to cow’s milk cheese; just over two pages for goat’s milk; and about a third of a page for sheep’s milk. Knowing, as we all do, what wonders have been accomplished with sheep’s milk all around the Mediterranean, I believe this void on our soil is a sordid crime. I have no explanation; I don’t believe there is any. I will blame whomever I must, I just want the problem fixed. Hopefully that fix is in the works. There’s always hope.****


I have babbled too much. I can’t go on, for your sake and mine. I can’t and I won’t. If babble weren’t the purpose of The Blog (not only this blog, but blogs in general), then I might be ashamed.***** I’m not. The Cheese Slang posts will have to stretch into one more; and in that final post we’ll discuss the Dutch and learn about the Original Cheese Head. (Religiously, I believe it was Brett Favre; historically, there’s another explanation.)

BUT: So that trivia fanatics don’t leave disappointed at having learned only one bit of cheese slang, I’ll toss in a few quickies:

Cheese = money, as in “government cheese.” During the 80s, the US Government began distributing “Pasteurized Process American Cheese for Use in Domestic Programs” to welfare and food stamp recipients. By implication, then, “cheese” can mean money in general, handouts in general, charity for poor people, handouts for lazy people, a sign of poverty, and much, much more. “Who stole my cheese?” starts to sound urgent.

Cheese it! Not, as Urban Dictionary claims, first used in West Side Story. This phrase is as old as the 1870s, and typically employed within the longer sentence “Cheese it, the cops!”, or to tell somebody to be quiet. It’s thought by some to be connected with “stow it,” which would work in both those contexts — but what does stowing have to do with cheese? This nice commentary brings up the suggestion that “Cheese it!” derives from an older proverb, “After cheese comes nothing.” Everyone’s favorite. “Cheese it,” then, would mean to put a stop to whatever’s going on, to deliver the final words, strike the final blow, exit the final exit. Maybe blow the final trumpet, as Archangel Michael will do to put an end to time at last. No coincidence, then, that “Cheese it!” could be rhyming slang for “Jesus.”


* Of course the churlish Twain certainly had his own racial prejudices: “And so I find that we have descended and degenerated, from some far ancestor–some microscopic atom wandering at its pleasure between the mighty horizons of a drop of water perchance–insect by insect, animal by animal, reptile by reptile, down the long highway of smirchless innocence, till we have reached the bottom stage of development–namable as the Human Being. Below us–nothing. Nothing but the Frenchman.”

** Pessoa: “Should you ask me if I’m happy, I’ll answer that I’m not.” 

*** Compare to Pessoa: “I asked for very little from life, and even this little was denied me. A nearby field, a ray of sunlight, a little bit of calm along with a bit of bread, not to feel oppressed by the knowledge that I exist, not to demand anything from others, and not to have others demand anything from me — this was denied me, like the spare change we might deny a beggar not because we’re mean-hearted but because we don’t feel like unbuttoning our coat.”

**** Pessoa: “A tedium that includes the expectation of nothing but more tedium; a regret, right now, for the regret I’ll have tomorrow for having felt regret today — huge confusions with no point and no truth, huge confusions . . .”

***** Pessoa: “The only attitude worthy of a superior man is to persist in an activity he recognizes is useless, to observe a discipline he knows is sterile, and to apply certain norms of philosophical and metaphysical thought that he considers utterly inconsequential.”

Cheese Slang, pt 1: Woman, Cheese, and the Western World

“A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” — Brillat-Savarin

Objectified women and barbarians

Subjects of today's post: Objectified women and barbarians


Someday soon, I’m going to make some cheese of my own — and no doubt poison myself and my household. I’ve accumulated some equipment, I’ve bought a book, I’ve started practicing the maneuvers with low-intensity dairy products. My great dream is to make soft and stinky, monastery-style cheeses.

Here’s to big dreams.

Despite what the marketers will tell you, it looks like home cheesemaking is not going to be “easy”: it requires unusual hardware, unusual ingredients, time, practice, and assiduity. It might still be “fun.” We’ll see. But one can never be too wary when promised “fun” by strangers. Consider it — as you would the Mayan prophecies of a 2012 apocalypse: keep in mind the possibility, give it a contemplative frown — but don’t count on it.


But what if you don’t have the time, or the equipment, or even the desire; and you don’t live on a farm, and you’re not a professional cheesemaker, and neither are you parents — can you still “make cheese”?

Of course. Especially if you are an attractive and flirtatious young lady. (Don’t cringe: you don’t have to lactate.)

According to old British and American slang (1840s and 50s), there is a completely non-dairy process by which ladies can “make cheese,” which is to flare out your petticoats by twirling your skirts, then promptly and sweetly sit down so that everything poofs out nice and round — round like a wheel of cheese, I guess — and everybody sighs and smiles at your winsomeness. Some old people will sigh and smile in remembrance of how they once “made cheese” in their youth. And some old people will sigh and smile because the moment of frivolity reminds them how all things are not as morose and churlish as the bogwater of their own thoughts — not until one thinks about them, at least.

Make too much cheese, though, and the boys could see your ankles, or even a little fleshy leg when the skirt rises up; and we all know what that can lead to.

Fates worse than death.

And so it did. Over the span of generations, cheese slang progressed from cheerful “cheesemaking” to forms of exhibitionism and voyeurism no longer as innocent and lighthearted as a skirt-twirl. Soon men made an activity of leeringly “checking the cheese” — browsing the streets for cuties — and they shared their discoveries with mutterings like “Nice piece of cheese,” or “Tasty piece of cheddar.” (As we know, for some time Americans tended to equate cheese with cheddar.) Then, by World War time, it had all escalated (or descended) into vulgarity: from this seductively frolicksome making of cheese (the 19th century was so precious), came “cheesecake,” which referred to the morally catastrophic photographs of ladies in erotic, and even pornographic, poses, with little or no dress for a rind.*

"Cheesecake," before the pervs got to it.

"Cheesecake," before the "pervs" got to it


And this is how cultures degrade into barbarism, some say.

Remember the Spanish proverb: “Cheese without a rind is like a maiden without shame.” A fallen maiden, that is.

As has been mentioned before, there is a certain sense, maybe a vague and inaccurate one, in which the whole Roman Empire Narrative of the West endows hard and/or ripened cheeses with the qualities of civilization, refinement, and learning (Rome), whereas soft and unaged cheeses evoke barbarian primitivism (everyone else) — until more recent centuries, at least. The Romans — especially after their conquest of Greece — made and ate a lot of cheese, of many varieties. Lucius Iunius Moderatus Columella (perhaps the Original Gentleman Farmer of the 1st c. AD) describes in De Rustica** a legion of common Roman cheeses, and documents the variety of methods by which they were made: some flavored, some unflavored, some smoked, some fresh, and many molded, pressed, and aged. It is suggested that the Romans invented the press-and-drain method of cheesemaking, as well as the process of ripening (look online here and here). I have some aversion to giving the Romans credit for everything they’re typically given credit for — just reactionary skepticism, probably. In any case, those Romans, busy-bodies that they were, significantly improved the methods of pressing and ripening.


Did Romulus and Remus make wolf's milk cheese?

At first cheese was a luxurious indulgence in Rome, but with all these technological innovations cheese became a common staple for common people, and was even carried as rations by the imperial armies. Roman styles of cheesemaking followed the spreading Empire all over the Western World; then colonies started developing their own styles, and sending them back to Rome; and everyone was happy in Europe, sharing recipes and complimenting each other, for a time. Then the Empire fell, for some reason or other, and the darkness of the Dark Ages encroached. The kind of “culture” Rome prized (most of which we still prize today) was lost on the barbarian marauders, who, once unyoked from the taming and civilizing rule of Rome, lacked the “cultivation” to carry on traditions. Every day was a new beginning for them. Or whatever. Among the lost classical arts, alongside all sorts of boring Latin rules of grammar, were Roman techniques for pressing and ripening cheese.

It was in the monasteries — at first in places like Ireland and England, then elsewhere — that Roman cheesemaking practices continued to persist and evolve; while outside those walls dirty irascible men reverted to making cream cheese in stone bowls, like stinking monkeys. Because everybody knows barbarians just don’t have the patience to ripen a good wheel. When missionaries brought the Good News back to the dark heart of the continent, building monasteries and cheering everyone up, they also returned the power to press, ripen, and otherwise perfect cheese (as discussed in this post).

And that’s how the world became the way it is today.

As you might sense, I’m aware and skeptical of the simplicity of this story; nevertheless, I’m doing what I can with the sources I can find. If anybody wants to pay me to research and write a history of cheese more thorough and definitive than those I’ve hit upon, I don’t require much. I might even do it for a few plane tickets and an unskilled house servant.

I didn’t intend such a lengthy and horrid tangent — but it had to happen sometime, heaven knows, because it involved the Romans, and the Romans always force their way in.

(This site says that the Greeks invented cheesecake long ago, and served it to their Olympic athletes at the world’s first games, in 776 BC. These athletes were buck naked the whole time, of course, just like those women in the more provocative “cheesecake” photos of the 20th century. Unfortunately, the Greeks didn’t have sugar back then, so their cheesecake doesn’t count.)


Back on topic.

I suppose that the modern freethinking man, with a little practice in the manipulation of a skirt, could “make cheese” as well as any woman. Not that his parents would be pleased; but there’s no reason to segregate these days. Still, there’s one style of cheese that no man can reproduce: the human style — insofar as baby-making can be and has been compared to cheesemaking, which I wrote about at length here.


woman's monopoly on analogical cheesemaking

The human baby: woman's monopoly on analogical cheesemaking


Before abandoning this segment on sexist cheese slang, I must mention the less complimentary metaphors binding women to cheese. It’s been brought to my attention (thank you Ms. Walman) that “cottage cheese” connotes a few less enticing feminine features, like cellulite and yeast infection discharge. (I’ve also seen cottage cheese likened to baby vomit — which makes some sense if the babies themselves are likened to soft cheeses, their curds still mixed up with some whey –) Once again, it’s the soft and unripened cheeses that are wound up with ugliness. Before it was moral ugliness, this time its physical. Either way: typical barbarian traits. Maybe my ridiculous and incomplete analysis holds, at least on one strain of our “cultural history.”


Instead of spooling out another endless post, I’m going to put off the second half of my work on the subject of cheese-connotations-and-slang for another installment. So: The next post will feature a few bits on racial slurs, and a sermon on the shortcomings of the cheesemonger based on a passage from Kierkegaard.

* A lot of this information about slang I’m drawing from Stuar Berg Flexner’s wonderful Listening To America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from our Lively and Splendid Past. I found this book in a strange second-hand shop in Mountain View, Arkansas, where my friend Adam and I had driven under no pretense but to see some woods and eat some “famous pie.” There also were groups of old friends playing country music and bluegrass on every corner of the town square at sunset. Maybe they were filming a movie, that’s all I can think of.

** I read some of the preface and other random snatches, and apparently They were already complaining back then about how the Earth was old and weary and gone barren (Columella didn’t agree). Just like now. Well, everything turned out okay for the Romans, didn’t it?


If you have something to share but don't want to comment, EMAIL ME at

aftercheese @

(spaces added to prevent spamming)