Wednesday, February 25, 2009
BLESSED ARE THE CHEESE-EATERS
When I first started spending large amounts of time in America – over a decade ago now – I was amazed about what we might call the cheese situation.
Historically England has had nine varieties of classic cheese; there are many more now. In France every village seems to make it’s unique cheese; c.f. Charles De Gaulle, "How can you govern a country which has 258 kinds of cheese?" (Online you can find many variations on this number – anywhere between 230 and 350, but you get the idea.)
In America, as far as I could see, there was Monterey Jack, and that was about it.
Over the years I’ve educated myself about artisanal American cheese and found plenty to enjoy but I still don’t think of America as a great nation of cheese eaters. And then I read Nicolette Hahn Niman’s new book Righteous Porkchop.
The book is full of astonishing, and sometimes horrifying, facts about industrial food production. One part that got me especially was about milk and cheese.
In 1909, she tells us, the average dairy cow produced 2,902 pounds of milk per year, and the average American annually ate three pounds of cheese. By 2005 most US dairy cows were Holsteins, which now give an average of 19,951 pounds of milk per year; with the average American now eating 31 pounds of cheese per year. This might make you think that America is a nation of cheese eaters after all.
But only up to a point. You have to wonder exactly how Americans eat their cheese. Well, certainly the cheeseburger must account for quite a few annual pounds, and mac and cheese must account for a few more, but I’m guessing that most Americans eat most of their cheese on pizzas, where it’s largely a base for other flavors.
But American’s cheese industry still wanted Americans to eat more. And so the food scientists invented the pizza with the cheese-stuffed crust: blandness wrapped in dough - the perfect delivery system for people who don’t actually like good cheese.