Thursday, March 10, 2016

Medieval Cheesemongers and Talgar Cheese.

I have a story today especially for those of you who love cheese. It comes from Memorials of London and London Life, in the XIIIth, XIVth, and XVth Centuries (London, 1868) and details new regulations proposed by the cheesemongers of London in the fourteenth century to protect their trade.

Ordinances of the Cheesemongers.

Be it remembered, that on the Eve of Corpus Christi in the 51st year of [the reign of] King Edward the Third [i.e. 1377] etc., the reputable men of the trade of Chesemongeres presented in the Chamber of the Guildhall of London, before Nicholas Brembre, Mayor, the Aldermen, and the Commoners, in full Common Council, the Articles underwritten: which Articles were then accepted and approved by the same. –

" To the honourable Lords, the Mayor, Recorder, and Aldermen of London, pray the Chesemongeres of London, that whereas our said Lord the Mayor has told them heretofore to devise and ordain how that the price of cheese and of butter may be amended, the said chesemongeres therefore, by their common assent, have well considered how that the said price maybe well amended; if our said Lord the Mayor, and his good Council, will put their hand to, confirm, and enrol, the points underwritten. —

"First, — that foreigners who come to the City with cheese and butter for sale, in carts and upon horses, shall be charged to bring their wares into the market of the Ledenhalle, or the market between St. Nicholas Shambles and Neugate, and nowhere else, before Noon rung at such place where the purchase shall be made: and shall be charged that they shall not put away in "houses or in rooms, privily or openly, either after Noon rung or before, any cheese or butter, on pain of forfeiting the same that shall be so put away.

"Also,—whereas those who carry or bring cheese or butter to the City by water, do sell it in secret to hokesters and to others, against the ancient usage, whereas they were wont heretofore to bring it to, and sell it in, the same markets; they do pray that from henceforth all such dealers shall be charged to bring such cheese or butter to the markets aforesaid, and there sell the same; on pain of forfeiting the thing so sold; and also, on pain of imprisonment, and of making fine at the will and ordinance of our said Lord the Mayor.

"Also,- divers bersters [hucksters] of cheese, from Hamme, Hakeney, and the suburbs of London, are wont to go to divers markets, and to buy up and forestal such wares, which ought to come to the hands of the working-men in London; and such bersters then bring the same into London, and go about through divers streets in the said city, and sell it, to the great damage of the commonalty; saying and affirming that it is the produce of their own cattle, and of their own making ; they do pray therefore that from henceforth such forestallers, regrators, and bersters, and all other vendors of cheese or of butter, foreigners or freemen, shall be charged to sell the same at one of the said markets, on the pain aforesaid.

"Also,- whereas strangers do come and bring to the City cheese of Wales, called -' talgar,' and house the same in Fletstrete and in Holbourne, and other places, as well within the City as without, and there sell it in secret, against the ancient custom, in manner aforesaid; and also, whereas two or three persons from Wales have their serving-men lying in wait in the City all the year through, and when any one from Wales brings talgar cheese to the City for sale, such men go and make false suggestions to the dealers in such cheese, and through such subtlety regrate [request] the cheese in private, and then sell it by retail to the commoners, without it coming to such market,—that they may be charged to bring their wares to the said markets, in form and on the pain aforesaid.

"Also,- whereas the hokesters and others who sell such wares by retail, do come and regrate such cheese and butter before Prime rung, and before that the commonalty has been served; may it be ordained that no such hokesters shall buy of any foreigner before the hour of Prime, on pain of imprisonment at the will of the Mayor, and of the wares being forfeited to the prisoners of Neugate, or in such other manner as shall seem proper to our "said Lord the Mayor to be done.

"Also,- that the good folks of the said trade shall be charged every year, at the Feast of St. Michael, to choose two of the most able men to oversee as to the points aforesaid, that they are well kept and observed in manner before stated. And that the persons so chosen shall have power to seize such manner of merchandize, so forfeitable, and to present the same before the Mayor; in amendment of the price aforesaid, to the great profit of the commonalty in time to come.

"Also,- that each one of the said overseers shall make due execution of his office, without laxity, or doing wrong to any one; and that no one of them shall forestal any thing to his own private profit, against the common profit and the Ordinances aforesaid; on pain of paying 100s. to the use of the Commonalty, on the first default found against him; on the second default, 10l.; on the third default, 20 marks; and that, without any remission of the same: and that he who shall make prayer for such person found in default, shall pay to the use of the Commonalty 2os., without any remission thereof, as above stated.

Afterwards, on the 17th day of June in the 51st year etc., William Sparke and Robert Whyte were here sworn well and trustily to oversee the Articles above-written, and here to present the defaults, if any such they should find.

The most interesting thing for me in this application is the mention of the Welsh cheese called talgar. It is interesting as it is a very early mention of a specific cheese by name. And it is even more interesting on account of the mystery of its popularity far away in London. It must have been very desirable indeed: the black market for the cheese was presumably lucrative, else why would the cheesemongers of that city feel it necessary to attempt legal control of its sale?

Sadly, I have been unable to find out anything about talgar, other than its name is said to suggest it originated in the market town of Talgarth, in Brecknockshire in Wales. It must now, I suppose, be counted as a ‘lost’ cheese – although I do hope someone with local knowledge will be able to reassure us that some artisan producer in the region has taken up its manufacture again.

As the recipe for the day, I need no excuse to give you another version of Welsh Rabbit – one of my favourite and recurring topics as regular readers will know. This recipe is however referred to as a‘rarebit,’ which we all know is quite incorrect. It is also made with canned asparagus, which is really stretching the concept a little too far for me, but does lend a little to the asparagus menu story earlier in the week.

Asparagus Rarebit.
(A Meat Substitute)

Melt l tablespoon butter; add 1 tablespoon flour and mix well. Place in a double boiler, then add ½ cup milk and cook until thick, constantly stirring; add 1 cup grated cheese, 1 tablespoon tomato catsup, ½ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper. Stir until cheese has melted, then add 2 cups California Canned Asparagus cut into short lengths and thoroughly heated. Serve on triangles of fresh buttered toast.
Asparagus for delicacy and variety : a collection of recipe and menu suggestions for the service of California canned asparagus (undated, but probably mid-1920’s,) prepared by Belle De Graf)

1 comment:

MakingSpace said...

I absolutely love the concept of black market cheese. Heehee