Cheese as an Act of Patriotism

This week’s yarn is a doozy, a story of patriotism and dairy culled from the annals of American history. I once heard mention of a tall tale involving a little town in Connecticut, a giant cheese, and President Jefferson, and thought there could be no better week than this to delve into the strange and hilarious story of the Mammoth Cheese.

Back in 1802, when Thomas Jefferson was in the White House, a little reverend in a little town in Connecticut decided to script a love letter in curd to the commander in chief. Reverend John Leland, a Baptist marooned in a land of staunch Calvinists, symapthized with Jefferson’s progressive ideals surrounding the separation of church and state, and the two men struck up a friendship. Leland figured that the best way to show his admiration and devotion to the big guy would be to enlist his congregation’s labor in the fabrication of a giant wheel of cheese to be delivered to Washington.

He called on every farmer in town to bring every drop of milk or every bit of curd from their dairies to the town’s cider mill, where they jury-rigged a makeshift cheese press where the apples would usually get squashed. A provision was made, however, that no milk from a farmer with Federalist leanings would be included in the project, ‘lest it should leaven the whole lump with a distasteful savour.’ (As quoted from an article written for ‘Gentlemans’ Magazine’, circa 1869. Why don’t we talk like that anymore?!)

The resulting cheese, a wheel of Cheshire, tipped the scales weighing in somewhere between 1200 to 1600 pounds. I suspect the discrepancy in weight is like a big fish tale… there’s always a bit of wiggle room where more drama and more heft are likely to be inserted. The unwieldy cheese was too awkward to be transported in a normal horse drawn cart, so the Reverend harnessed his beasts to a sleigh, and dragged the cheese for 500 miles through the New England winter to the White House. I mean, come on, can you imagine waking up one morning and peeking out the window only to see an enormous cheese glide by silently over the snow? I’m telling you, those were the days!

The cheese was presented to Jefferson on January 2nd of 1802, who by all historical accounts, was pretty darn impressed. He sliced off a wedge, took a walloping bite, and declared it a fine example of the craftsmanship and industriousness of his countrymen. The Mammoth Cheese, as it came to be called, remained at the White House for over two years, and was slowly chipped away at during many ceremonial dinners. You can imagine the waitstaff and their grumblings… ‘Would anyone like more cheese? We have a lovely macaroni and cheese casserole for dinner tonight…’ Rev. Leland’s Cheshire was on the menu for the Independence Day banquet of 1803, a full year and a half after it was first nibbled on. So for any of you who’ve ever wondered about how long you can keep a chunk of cheese in your fridge, keep this tale in mind. Our forefathers didn’t mess around when it came to dairy.

So add it to the list of grocery items for this year’s barbeque… hamburger patties, ears of corn, a six pack of beer, and a gargantuan wheel of fromage.

Oh, and don’t forget to mark your calendar… Saxelby Cheesemongers will close at 5:00 pm on Friday July 3rd, and will be closed Saturday July 4th. We will re-open on Monday July 6th at 9:00 am sharp.

Happy Fourth!

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