“Hard Cheese” is “Bad Luck”. Cheese so hard that you can use it to shoe your clogs with is Very, Very Bad Luck. Such cheese was the dinner-time luck of the peasants in olden times, along with the sort of very hard bread we heard about yesterday. It was made from the thin, several-times skimmed milk that was left over after the cream had been used for the landlord’s purposes. The older it was, the harder it got. It was hard work to cut, and hard work to eat.
“It has often been remarked, that farmer’s servants, or others who are condemned to this kind of food, find the time spent in eating it, the hardest part of their day’s work.”
One version of hard cheese for the peasants and labourers (read “slaves”) was the Whillimer cheese of Cumberland that featured in yesterday’s post, and it was reputed to be hard enough to sole one’s clogs. Every county seems to have had its own version. In Yorkshire, it was Whangby cheese – from ‘whang’ meaning anything unbearably tough, such as a piece of leather (particularly a leather thong), or Old Peg Cheese. In Suffolk it was Suffolk Thump or Suffolk Bang, perhaps because thumping or banging made little or no impression on it. Suffolk cheese made from thrice-skimmed milk was supposedly the worst in England, and jokes about it abound. It was said that “Hunger will break through stone walls, or anything except Suffolk cheese”, that knives wouldn’t cut it, fire wouldn’t sweat it, and even the dogs couldn’t eat it, but that it was eminently suitable for making wheels for wheelbarrows. In the Isle of Wight it was Isle of Wight Rock – a cheese that was “too big to swallow and too hard to bite”, that would “mock the weak efforts of the bending blade”, and was hard enough to make pins on which to hang the farm gates.
We are spoiled today. Most of us would throw out any cheese hard enough to use as shoe-leather. It is still good protein however, so perhaps we should make more of an effort to make it edible by using it in a recipe. Here is an idea from The West Australian, of Friday 9 January 1880 that would fit comfortably in the Welsh Rabbit (not Rarebit) series (chapter one and chapter two).
Grate a teacupful of rich, hard cheese, and add to it a teacupful of milk, a teaspoonful of mixed mustard and one of curry powder. Stir it over the fire till thick and smooth, and spread it over slices of buttered toast. Brown a few minutes in the oven, and serve hot.
Quotation for the Day.
Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.
[various forms attributed to various people]