Eat / Drink / Love

Charming Cheese Facts That Will Spruce Up After-Dinner Conversation

For too long, a decent cheeseboard has become synonymous with being “a Christmas thing.” Once a year, an especially designated chopping board or plate will be hauled out, and laden with Neal’s Yard’s finest offerings, with grapes, apple and pear slices and other crudités draped around it. A jar or two of spiced chutney or chilli jam is popped open and a little cornichon might even find its way onto the spread of dreams, alongside a selection of crackers, from Carr’s to artisan charcoal bakes. Then, after the eating’s done, that’s it for another 12 months.

Not on our watch. The mighty cheese board needs to take back its place at the dinner table, whether that’s after a Friday night, six-person Beaujolais-and-bourguignon sesh, or a light post-meal, pre-Netflix snack for two, midweek.

To whet guests’ appetite for the dairy-based eats, here are seven intriguing facts we never knew about cheese before.

Holy moley

The emoji or cartoon drawing for cheese is always traditionally a triangular wedge of bright yellow, with little holes in it. The correct term for these circles are ‘eyes’ and they are also known as ‘blowhole’ and ‘frogmouth’. The holes themselves are actually caused by carbon dioxide gas bubbles that are produced by bacteria during fermentation, and the longer the cheese ferments, the bigger the holes it produces.

Big cheese

Since 1953, a northern Italian bank, Credito Emiliano, has allowed wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano as loan collateral. The regional bankers essentially replace an expensive part of the operations process for dairy farmers in the Emilia Romagna region. As well as holding the cheese for insurance purposes, the system also stores and ages the wheels in climate-controlled vaults for the duration of the loan, saving farmers cash on operating costs, too.

Regal rennet

When Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840, one of the wedding gifts that was bestowed upon them was a “monster Cheddar” wheel, almost three metres in diameter, made by the villagers of East and West Pennard, in Somerset. It took the milk of 750 cows to produce, and HRH didn’t quite know what to make of it, so sent it off on a tour of England. When it was eventually brought back, she turned it away. Probably she’d have just preferred a pair of silver salt and pepper shakers from her John Lewis registry.

Yellow pound

When you think of the world’s most expensive cheese, you’ll probably land upon Parmesan as the most pricey. But it’s actually a donkey-milk cheese from Serbia called Pule that really breaks the bank. Selling from €1,000 a kilo, it’s an off-white, crumbly soft cheese and its taste has been described as “sweet, clean and mild,” to “intense, with a natural saltiness.” It’s a hard pass from us.

Stinking bishops, knights, kings and queens

From expensive to odorous: the dairy produce that reaches peak stink is a French cheese called Vieux Boulogne, as discovered by researchers at Cranfield University in 2004. The Guardian had a wedge of cheese delivered to their offices and noted: “it had an aroma of six-week-old earwax….From a safe distance of 50 metres, the cheese emitted a pleasant eau de farmyard, replete with dung and Barbour jackets.” Just don’t bring in on public transport.

Guia power

The artisan Flor de Guia is a cheese delicacy that’s made in the Canary Islands, with the juice from the cardoon or globe artichoke flowerhead to curdle the mixture of sheep and cows’ milk. But tradition states that if it’s not made by women, then it won’t be deemed the genuine article. The future really is female here.

Churning stomachs

Finally - a fact that will swiftly end any cheese feast: it’s impossible to make cheese entirely from human milk, since it won’t coagulate properly.

Think that’s quite enough Stilton for tonight, thanks.

Main image credit: Whitestorm via Getty Images

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