When North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un disappeared from public view last month, there was speculation that the portly young leader was in failing health, possibly even suffering from gout.(It has since been reported that Kim was hospitalized with two fractured ankles, reportedly from wearing heels and being overweight.)
Some, though, went so far as to suggest that the North Korean leader was ill from a massive cheese addiction.
Wisconsin being the dairy state, I asked a number of Wisconsin cheese makers and experts for their opinion on what kind of cheese might have sidelined the secretive 31-year-old despot.
"My guess is it would be a triple cream like a Delice de Bourgogne," said Patty Ehlers Peterson, manager of Larry's Market, a popular cheese shop in Brown Deer, Wis. Peterson said the decadent cheese from the Burgundy region of France would be ideal for a dictator such as Kim.
"It's so rich and so addictive. People absolutely love it," she said. "A dictator is going to have access to the ooey gooey stuff."
Ken Monteleone, owner of Fromagination artisanal cheese shop in Madison, Wis., speculated that Kim might have fallen in love with Limburger, a German-style creamy, pungent cheese commonly compared to body odor.
"It's one of those strong, stinky cheeses that I think is very suitable for his palate," said Monteleone. Limburger is typically paired with rye bread and onions, he said, adding that one could easily become ill from consuming an eight-ounce block of Limburger.
Steve Shapson, aka "The Cheesemaker," agreed.
"A man of his (Kim's) stature would prefer something more stinky like a Limburger. That's really more of his lifestyle," said Shapson, of Mequon, Wis., whose company sells cheese-making supplies to artisans and home cheese makers around the world.
Shapson said Limburger is a high calcium, low moisture cheese with a high concentration of minerals, which, when consumed in dictator-size proportions, could definitely lead to gout.
"You don't want to eat that much of it," he added. "Your body cannot process it that fast. He's probably a lush; not mature enough to handle it. It's like having too much ice cream."
Because the North Korean dictator was known to have attended school in Switzerland, Shapson suggested Kim may also be hooked on Emmental, a mild, medium-hard Alpine-style cheese also high in calcium and minerals.
"It's something made there (North Korea) and obviously not from Wisconsin," joked Patty Koenig, senior administrator at the award-winning Carr Valley Cheese Co. in La Valle, Wis.
Koenig said whatever cheese Kim is addicted to would probably have a high acid content, like a Beerkase, a mild but smelly buttery-style cheese that is washed in brine, whey, beer and cider. She added that Beerkase would be especially difficult to digest if one were lactose intolerant.
Ben Raatz, manager of the Wisconsin Cheese Mart in the Milwaukee Public Market, said the North Korean dictator was probably addicted to Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a rich and hearty cheese made by the Uplands Cheese Company in Dodgeville, Wis. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is the most awarded cheese in American history, having won Best of Show in the American Cheese Society's annual competition three times, said Raatz.
"It's one of the best cheeses in the world so I imagine a lot of people are addicted to it," he said. "It's a strong, flavorful Alpine-style cheese."
If the North Korean leader were also addicted to beer (which has also been rumored) and has gout, Raatz recommended that he enjoy a bottle of Skurvy, an IPA-style beer brewed with an orange peel, made by the Lake Mills, Wis.-based Tyranena Brewing Company.