Today, April 17th …
On this momentous day in 1810, in the United States of America, something called Pineapple Cheese was patented by Lewis M Norton of Troy, Pennsylvania.
My first thought was that Mr Norton had been sufficiently inspired (or deranged) to try combining pineapple (the fruit ) with cheese (the dairy product), a combination that he could probably confidently assume no-one else had already been inspired (or deranged) enough to combine, causing him to rush off to the patent office before he was proven wrong. I thought therefore, that he was the man ultimately responsible for the idea that gave us the multi-coloured dried-fruity cheeseballs that graced the best buffet tables in the 1970’s.
Further investigation put me right. What Lewis actually patented was a cheddar-style cheese cured in string bags which left criss-cross marks on the yellow surface of the cheese which were suggestive of the pineapple, hence the name. In other words, what he actually patented appears to be a particular shape and surface decoration, rather than a new cheese (I am willing to stand corrected here, not having had the pleasure of tasting it myself). The story did make me briefly wondering if I could make my own fortune by following a standard recipe for cheese and hanging it up to dry in old socks, thereby giving it sock-shape and entitling me to patent it as Sock Cheese.
Did Lewis make a fortune from his cheese? Alas, I do not know, but he should have, because this ornamental cheese was sufficiently popular to have its own bespoke ornamental storing and serving container – a silver bell shaped, of course, like a pineapple. According to a gem of a book called The Complete Book of Cheese (1995), by Robert Carlton Brown this is how it worked:
‘You cut a top slice off the cheese, just as you would off the fruit, and there was a rose-colored, fine-tasting, mellow-hard cheese to spoon out with a special silver cheese spoon or scoop. Between meals the silver top was put on the silver holder and the oiled and shellacked rind kept the cheese moist. Even when the Pineapple was eaten down to the rind the shell served as a dunking bowl to fill with some salubrious cold Fondue or salad.’
Cheese purists would say that Lewis’ cheese was not in fact Cheddar cheese (ie made in Somerset England, from raw milk and animal rennet, using traditional methods and with a cloth wrapping). It is correct to say it is a cheddar style cheese however, as it has undergone the crucial cheddaring process. Cheddaring refers to the repeated stacking and turning of slabs of curd after it is separated from the ‘cooked’ whey. The process facilitates drainage and the matting together of the curd before it is placed into moulds and compressed.
Cheese purists are probably horrified at the thought of eating it in any other way than in its naked original form, perhaps with a cracker biscuit, but cheese junkies will eat it in any form, and cant bear to waste a scrap of it. The recipes today are for cheese junkies. They are taken from a book popular in Lewis’ time. It is A New System of Domestic Cookery, Formed Upon Principles of Economy, and Adapted to the Use of Private Families, By a Lady (1807)
Cut and pound four ounces of Cheshire cheese, one ounce and a half of fine butter, a tea-spoonful of white white pounded sugar, a little bit of mace, and a glass of white wine. Press it down in a deep pot.
Roast Cheese, to come up after Dinner.
Grate three ounces of fat Cheshire cheese, mix it with the yolks of two eggs, four ounces of grated bread, and three ounces of butter; beat the whole well in a mortar, with a desert-spoonful of mustard, and a little salt and pepper. Toast some bread, cut it into proper pieces, lay the paste as above thick upon them, put them into a Dutch oven covered with a dish, till hot through, remove the dish, and let the cheese brown a little. Serve as hot as possible.
On this Topic …
We have previously featured that special form of toasted cheese called Welsh Rabbit (and explained why it is not Rarebit).
More recipes for it are in Welsh Rabbit, Chapter II.
Tomorrow’s Story …
The Viscount and his Turnips.
This Day Last Year ...
We celebrated the birthday of Eliza Acton.
Quotation for the Day …
A cheese may disappoint. It may be dull, it may be naive, it may be oversophisticated. Yet it remains cheese, milk's leap toward immortality. Clifton Fadiman.