I love cheese. A fairly simple confession, don't you think? A lot of people like cheese. So what is the big deal?
No one knows for sure where or when the first cheese was made. Possibly as far back as 8000 BC. This makes me ponder.....was the first cheese a mistake, a fluke or was it a series of well planned experiments thought of by some uncivilized human, an early scientist who liked to play with milk products? Did he think, "Gee, I wonder what will happen to this milk if I store it in this animal stomach I just happen to have hanging around and let it sit for a while?" And wouldn't the odor caused by the chemical reactions been incentive to toss out whatever was in that said stomach? Whichever is closest to the truth, the bigger question is who was brave (or stupid) enough to take the first bite? These are things I think about and want answers for!
By the time of the Roman Empire, cheese production was in full swing in Europe, aided further by those methodic Romans with the cheese making techniques and standards they introduced with their conquests of various regions. As Rome failed, cheese became more diversified and regions began to hone their cheese making skills and develop flavors to reflect their tastes and preferences. Switzerland had the first cheese factory in 1815, but the first cheese factory using milk gathered from various nearby farmers was up and running in Rome, NY, in 1851. This practice spread over the next several decades and hundreds of dairy associations were formed throughout the United States. Factory production of cheese overtook traditional cheese-making by WWII. Presently in America, we buy more processed cheese than the real deal. Leave it to us to take a perfect food and "improve" it by making it fake. Go figure. But, I do admit there is nothing better than a hot, grilled cheese sandwich, fake though it may be
As for my own personal taste, I love a good cheddar cheese. Natural cheddar, that is. When Ed and I went to New England one fall, we happened upon a little town in New Hampshire, Sugar Hill by name. This is where we found Harman's General Store, one of the three or four buildings in this quaint little village.
I love to try cheeses from different countries but this can be a little intimidating, especially on a limited pocketbook. You don't want to spend $6 or $7 for a small block of cheese, only to discover that it stinks, literally and figuratively. For a really good cheese, try the Boars Head horseradish cheddar at your local Publix deli counter. Delish! At least they will give you a sample before you plunk down that cash!
There are soft cheeses like Brie. Is there anything so yummy as a baked Brie in pastry, warm and gooey spread on crackers? There are hard cheeses like a real Parmesan, wonderful when freshly shaved over spaghetti. The Kraft brand of Parmesan cheese in a box, ground like fine powder, doesn't hold a candle to an honest-to-goodness REAL Parmesan. I love Gouda, Monterey Jack, Munster, Harvarti, Mozzarella, and on and on. The sad thing is cheese is loaded with fat and is not a regular in my diet anymore since I have lost so much weight, but every now and then I treat myself. In the meantime, there are some really good low fat alternatives. The Lite Laughing Cow wedges is one and are a creamy non-guilty substitute when I have a small craving.
Now that I have extolled the many culinary virtues of cheese, did you know that there is another side of cheese that you may not know? Cheese can be a source of entertainment. And, no, I am not talking about the type of entertainment found by young boys and men known as "cutting the cheese". I have never found out why this is so funny to them, but apparently it is a male bonding practice and we shall leave that for another day. If, however, you can offer any insight as to why this may be, please feel free to disclose and educate the more refined female readers of this blog.
Back to cheese entertainment. Have you ever heard of the annual Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling? It takes place at Cooper's Hill, a picturesque place in England and is probably 200 years old. Throngs of people stand at the top of Cooper's Hill, a steep, grassy hill where a big roll of Double Gloucestershire cheese is released, followed by the mob chasing it at breakneck speed. The first one to catch up to the cheese and seize it is the winner. There is even a women's category, should any of you be interested in trying it. And don't forget to let the kids in on the action. Don't worry, the kids' race is rolling the cheese UPHILL.
The cheese can reach up to 70 miles per hour and the hill is so precariously dangerous that there are always injuries in the form of broken ankles, legs, arms. The official website offers the practical advise of making sure that your will is up to date before the day of the race. Should you take part in this event, be comforted that there are emergency services waiting at the bottom of the hill just in case, as well as several pubs within a few miles of the event. I am not sure which one would provide me with the most comfort! I guess it depends on the extent of the injuries and whether I had sought comfort and solace at the pubs BEFORE the roll.
The event has grown to such proportions with an ever-growing number of cheese-chasers that it was "officially" cancelled last year.
This style of competition has now spread across the globe. There is a similar event at Whistler Mountain outside of Vancouver, BC, Canada, and one in Japan, too. Ah, youth and/or stupidity combined with athleticism and/or beer is an inspiring thing!
Here in the United States, a new form of cheese recreation has evolved - cheese racing. It seems when young people are hiking long distances on the Appalachian trail and they "hook up" at camping sites along the way, they are very ingenious in creating ways to amuse themselves in the evenings when it is just them, the trees, nature and a dying fire, preferably one that is contained in a small, very portable grill. If they are lucky enough to have American cheese on hand, the Kraft kind, individually wrapped, of course, then the fun is for the taking! Up to four pieces of cheese can be placed on the grill at a time. Did you realize that the little envelope of plastic protecting the cheese slices will not melt upon contact with heat? And when exposed to said high heat, there are no toxic fumes or smells? But the magic occurs when the cheese comes to a boil, releasing gas, which in turns causes the plastic sleeve to inflate and swell.
If your cheese slice reaches complete and total inflation first, you WIN! However, there are rules you must follow! It has to be the real deal American cheese, no diet or low-fat slices can be used. Kraft American is the preferred cheese, but Borden's or a generic store brand will do in a pinch. The players MUST throw the cheese slices on the BBQ at the same time and there is no overlapping of cheese allowed. Players are not allowed to blow at the dying embers or fan them to induce more heat. There seems to be a great controversy over the direction of the seam of the envelope. Some players swear that seam side up (an "uppie") is better, but others deem that a "downie" -seam side down - is the best. It is an argument that will be debated for generations of hikers to come. If there are more than four racers, winners are determined by "heats". Ok, you caught me....a blatant pun! I don't know about you, but I'm ready to race!
See how versatile cheese can be? And I bet you had the misconception that cheese was boring and had never given it much thought! So the next time you are wandering down the deli aisle in the grocery store, take the time to peruse the cheese case. Go ahead and take a chance. Buy some cheeses you may never have tried before. What you do with it when you get home is your own business!