By Mordechai Schmutter
This week, in honor of Shavuos, we present fun facts about cheese, brought to you by the American Cheese Society:
1. Clarification: That’s “American Cheese Society,” not “American-Cheese Society.” It’s a society devoted to cheese made in America, not a society devoted to American cheese.
2. American cheese is not technically a cheese. Nor is it American.
3. I’m not kidding. It was invented in Switzerland. Also, there are laws against calling it “cheese.” The package has to say “processed cheese” or even leave out the word “cheese” altogether.
4. There are over 2,000 varieties of cheese. This means that if I listed them all here, I would have a large enough total word count and I can go back to bed.
5. A lot of these cheeses have funny names. For example, there’s a cheese in Romania called “Nasal cheese.” You laugh, but it was actually invented in the Romanian town of Nasal.
6. Most of us don’t understand cheese. We have some basic idea that cheese is what happens when you let milk get old, but whenever we let milk get old, it never becomes something we’d want to eat. So we’re pretty sure we’re missing some kind of crucial step here.
7. The average American eats 30 pounds of cheese per year, though some of us significantly bring up that average.
8. The Pilgrims included cheese in their supplies on the Mayflower. The polished it off on day one.
9. It did not help with the seasickness.
10. Some ancient Roman houses had a special kitchen, called a “careale,” just for making cheese. The milchig kitchen, I guess.
11. No one knows for sure when cheese was invented, but remnants of cheese were found in 4,000-year-old tombs in Egypt. No one knows what they were saving this for. All we know is that it doesn’t taste good anymore.
12. The cheese grater is the third-most-difficult thing in your kitchen to clean, right after the blade from your food processor and something called a “Slap Chop.” Be prepared to lose about half your sponge.
13. Pizza tastes 85% better if, when you pull out your slice, a string of cheese keeps it attached to the rest of the pie until you’re clear across the room.
14. Most cheeses are made with rennet, which is the stomach lining of an animal. Most kosher cheeses are made with a vegetarian rennin substitute, which is made from the stomach of a carrot.
15. No one’s sure who invented cheese. The prevailing theory is that someone was travelling with a bag of milk (back then milk came in bags, like in Israel, except that they were made from the stomach of an animal). After enough time, the milk got warm enough and reacted with the stomach lining, and by the time the guy opened his bag, he found that it had separated into curds and whey. The guy tasted it anyway, because if you’re already storing your milk in the stomach of an animal, a few curds aren’t going to deter you. And he found that the curds were delicious, especially with pineapple.
16. Once a year in England, there’s an event called the “Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling” near Gloucester (the town), in which they roll a 9-lb. wheel of Gloucester (the cheese) down a hill, and people chase after it. The first person to the bottom of the hill wins the cheese, if he still wants it.
17. They used to do this the Monday after Shavuos, but now they do it on the Spring Bank Holiday. That way, the bankers can make it.
18. In general, no one ever beats the cheese to the bottom. But if anyone does, there are ambulances ready.
19. There have to be ambulances, because there are always injuries. No one has ever made it to the bottom of the hill without falling.
20. It doesn’t help that the grass is always wet in England.
21. In 1997, for example, 33 people were injured.
22. Also, one year, the cheese went off course and took out a bystander.
23. Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling has been summarized as “Twenty young men chase a wheel of cheese off a cliff and tumble 200 yards to the bottom, where they are scraped up by paramedics and packed off to hospital.”
24. There are also uphill races, but they’re not as fun to watch.
25. There’s also something in America called “cheese racing,” but it’s a totally different thing.
26. First of all, it’s done with American cheese, which doesn’t come in wheels. It comes in stacks of random sizes, such as 108 slices. No one knows why. It’s gematria “chok.”
27. Sometimes, American cheese comes in wrapped packages of one, like anyone ever wants only one slice.
28. The way cheese racing works is that everyone throws a wrapped slice of cheese onto a barbecue grill and–well, that’s pretty much it. The cheese does the rest of the work. Basically, the cheese melts before the wrapper, and releases gas that inflates the plastic. I have no idea why on earth someone discovered that. But the first person whose plastic is totally inflated wins.
29. It’s not actually clear what his prize is. Maybe he has to clean the grill.
30. Cleaning the grill requires more physical activity than the entire “sport,” although it’s not really a sport. It’s more like something you do when you’ve invested in a milchig barbecue and you really have nothing to do with it besides make elaborate grilled cheese.
31. You don’t have to leap off a cliff to get cheese. You can actually make cheese from the comfort of your own home, provided you don’t mind the smell. On second thought, maybe “comfort” is a strong word.
32. To get a 9-lb. wheel of cheese, you have to start with about 90 gallons of milk.
33. You also need a whole bunch of tools that you probably don’t have, can’t store, and will cost you more than just buying cheese, which is made by professionals that you don’t have to clean up after.
34. It turns out that cheese is not made by aging milk. It’s made by heating up milk and adding things. That thing that people call “aged cheese” is actually aged after it’s made.
35. There’s no way that aged cheese was invented on purpose.
36. I don’t even think it was tasted on purpose. (“What was that?” “I don’t know. But I think we have to wait six hours now.”)
37. Typical things you need to make cheese at home include citric acid, rennet or some kind of rennet substitute that actually comes in pill form, fresh milk, a huge milchig pot, various strainers, a microwave, a cheese press, and cheesecloth, of course. And a really supportive family.
38. You’ll also need a meat thermometer. But not a fleishig one.
39. Cottage cheese is one of the easiest cheeses to make. You don’t even need rennet. You just need lemon juice, a pot, and cheesecloth. And a cottage.
40. Personally, I am afraid to make my own cheese, but then, I’m afraid to taste any milk that I’m not 100% sure is good. If I give it to someone else to taste, and it takes him a second to think before he answers, I don’t drink it.
41. Most homemade cheeses come in a lump that looks fairly unappetizing. Appetizing cheese comes in wheels or squares or a log that you peel to make thinner strands. Every picture of homemade cheese that I’ve ever seen looks like they dropped it.
42. After all that work, even if you drop it, you’re still eating it. That’s when the supportive family comes in.
43. Also, at some point during the cheese-making process, it’s going to occur to you that “fresh milk” doesn’t mean milk that you just recently bought in a store.
44. If you manage to make cheese from store-bought milk, then someone is really on your side.
45. To make cheese, first you boil the milk, very slowly, stirring the whole time so it doesn’t develop a film, and monitoring its temperature with your milchig meat thermometer. Then you add your curdling agents, and the milk magically separates into curds and whey.
46. Look out for spiders.
47. Contrary to popular belief, mice don’t particularly like cheese. Where would they have picked this up? Do you think there are instances of mice slowly boiling milk in the wild?
48. Your plan is that, as soon as you finish reading this article, you’re going to go get a slice of cheese. If you haven’t already.
49. It’s very hard to write a cheese article without filling it with cheese puns. There are whey too many. And most of them are cheesy.
Okay, I’m done. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.