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When Cheese Becomes Poetry

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Of course, it may be only a cheesemonger's folly, but I am finding cheese stories in the news -- and presumably, therefore, in real life -- becoming increasingly absurd.

Whereas once it was difficult to interest anyone in the media in cheese at all, now I find that those of us "in cheese" are often sought out for our own thoughts and comments on the most tangential cheese related matters. Nor is this media attention confined to the obscure blogosphere; no, this is real, honest-to-goodness journalistic press I'm speaking of.

Two examples may suffice. The first is from BBC News Europe, dated January 22, 2013. The headline: "Norway goat cheese fire closes tunnel." You really needn't read the story at all to get a chuckle from this, but if you do, you'd find that more than 50,000 pounds of Brunost -- caramelized goat cheese similar to the Gjetost sold at Murray's -- did indeed catch fire in a tunnel in Norway. The fire raged for five days in the tunnel, though luckily no one was hurt. The good news: it was the first time cheese had ever caught fire in Norway. Said the official who commented, "I didn't know that cheese burns so well." There were no reports of Norwegians flocking to the town of Tysfjord with their bread or crackers in hand.

Closer to home, The New York Times recently ran a piece on the minor literary genre known as "cheese signage." This is a very minor genre indeed, practiced by only a few mongers, usually in cheese shops and primarily on the East and West coasts.

While I was personally pleased to be cited as a pioneer in this field, I was perplexed at the pretentious knock-offs unleashed on the cheese-buying public. These signs are not intended to educate our customers, but to show off the writer's erudition in matters having little to do with cheese. Take this one - what does this tell you about cheese?

Icelandic ponies. Japanese cats on the Internet. Yawning puppies. Toddlers who give each other hugs. Goats climbing all over everything. Pink and green macaroons. Red pandas. Sparkly nail polish. Do you get where I'm going? Cute things. This cheese is so perfect and cute and delicious you just want to marry it. Or buy one and eat it.

As I started to email my annoyance at all of this to Jeff Gordinier, the writer of the piece and one of the best food writers at The Times, I saw that in my inbox he had sent one of my favorite poems by Donald Hall, 'O Cheese.' I then realized all this was to be taken with a grain of salt. Or perhaps a bite of Rogue River Blue and a glass of Port.

O Cheese
By Donald Hall

In the pantry the dear dense cheeses, Cheddars and harsh
Lancashires; Gorgonzola with its magnanimous manner;
the clipped speech of Roquefort; and a head of Stilton
that speaks in a sensuous riddling tongue like Druids.

O cheeses of gravity, cheeses of wistfulness, cheeses
that weep continually because they know they will die.
O cheeses of victory, cheeses wise in defeat, cheeses
fat as a cushion, lolling in bed until noon.

Liederkranz ebullient, jumping like a small dog, noisy;
Pont l'Evêque intellectual, and quite well informed; Emmentaler
decent and loyal, a little deaf in the right ear;
and Brie the revealing experience, instantaneous and profound.

O cheeses that dance in the moonlight, cheeses
that mingle with sausages, cheeses of Stonehenge.
O cheeses that are shy, that linger in the doorway,
eyes looking down, cheeses spectacular as fireworks.

Reblochon openly sexual; Caerphilly like pine trees, small
at the timberline; Port du Salut in love; Caprice des Dieux
eloquent, tactful, like a thousand-year-old hostess;
and Dolcelatte, always generous to a fault.

O village of cheeses, I make you this poem of cheeses,
O family of cheeses, living together in pantries,
O cheeses that keep to your own nature, like a lucky couple,
this solitude, this energy, these bodies slowly dying.

Poem source