The New York Times of March 26, 1881 ran an article under the heading Cheese that’s not Cheese. They began by announcing that "The Assembly Committee on Public Health met yesterday to investigate ‘lard cheese’ and oleomargarine, with a view to finding what legislation is necessary to protect the interests of the cheese and butter trades from the injury threatened by the production of these spurious articles."
The cheese and butter trade may have been at risk of injury from this new product, but it was cheese- and butter-men themselves who were responsible for it. The advent of the mechanical cream separator meant a much more efficient cream harvest and hence, greater butter production. But what to do with the increased quantity of leftover very skimmed milk? Put another fat back into it, of course, and make more ‘cheese.’ As an English newspaper (the Daily Mail) put it the following year ‘The essence of modern trade, since the days of bumper profits have passed, is said to be astuteness in using up waste and surplus material.’
The Committee listened to representatives from various stakeholders in the industry, and the New York Times journalist filtered out some of the more interesting and provocative speech-bites for its readers. It was opined by some in the industry that ‘good lard cheese, when purchased by persons who do not know its character, will bring several cents more per pound than skim cheese, because it resembles a finer quality of dairy cheese so closely that none but an expert can detect it.’ A cheese expert from the other side of the fence sadly agreed that this was the case, and that although he could detect the fraud, most ordinary consumers could not.
A Mr. Benham, from one of the companies making this product, stated that he thought that it was unnecessary to tell his customers the nature of the article they were buying, as ‘they all knew from the newspapers that a stock of lard cheese was coming into this City to be sold’ and he added that ‘very many dealers look upon it as an improvement over the skim cheese, and I should regard any improvement in an article of food as a good thing.’ He continued to express his opinion that lard cheese would not affect America’s export market for cheese, except temporarily ‘until the prejudice against it wore away.’
The debate between the bean-counters and the cheese purists continued on in this vein over a number of years in various countries, and pieces of legislation were eventually enacted around the world to ensure that proper labelling was used on the product. The production of fake cheese goes on however, and I understand it is popular in the pizza industry - although I guess businesses are not obliged to slip a food label underneath a slice of the pepperoni as they box-up your order.
This is how you can make your own lard cheese, if you have the equipment and the inclination:
An imitation cheese is also prepared from a mixture of one part lard and two or three parts milk, mixed or emulsionised at 140 deg F. This emulsion is then added with buttermilk to skimmed milk, so that the finished product contains about 14 per cent of lard (Caldwell).
Practical Dietetics with Special Reference to Diet in Disease, (New York, 1905) by William Gilman Thompson.
Quotation for the Day.
There are good imitations but there are no delicious ones.
A ‘French axiom’ stated in the article in the Daily Mail of June 17, 1882.