How a Cheese Goes Extinct
August 2, 2020 11:57 AM   Subscribe

How a Cheese Goes Extinct Ruby Tandoh writes about the culture, history and anthropology of cheesemaking through the lens of the British artisanal cheese industry. "When you talk with cheese aficionados, it doesn’t usually take long for the conversation to veer this way: away from curds, whey, and mold, and toward matters of life and death. With the zeal of nineteenth-century naturalists, they discuss great lineages and endangered species, painstakingly cataloguing those cheeses that are thriving and those that are lost to history."
posted by simonw (26 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Fascinating and somewhat tragic. Thank you.
posted by Slinga at 12:05 PM on August 2, 2020

In reading this article I found out that two of my favourite British cheeses are now extinct. Tymsboro was one of our wedding cheeses, and Innes Log (which went out of production just two months ago thanks to Covid-19) was my favourite British goats cheese.

I'd never fully appreciated how transient cheeses could be.
posted by simonw at 12:10 PM on August 2, 2020 [19 favorites]

MetaFilter: transient cheeses
posted by Splunge at 12:13 PM on August 2, 2020 [10 favorites]

Nice little story. I still miss the favorite cheese of my childhood, and this got me googling to see if there is any online memory of it. Nope. I think there was a sad period where all the little dairies were merged and consolidated into huge businesses, and the cheesemongers disappeared from all the high streets because people bought all their cheese in the supermarket. Now of course there are new artisanal cheesemakers, but they rarely bring back the old style like those guys in the article bringing back *real* Stilton (they seem very cool). I don't think the new cheesemongers are like the old ones either. I mean, I probably quote Lampedusa once a week, "if we want everything to remain the same, everything must change", but the old style cheesemongers had hundreds of cheeses from all over the world, and you could taste them before buying. At least here, the fancy new ones have mere dozens of specialties because they have curated them to make a statement, and while you can probably get a little tasting morsel, it never seems to me to be part of a conversation like it was before.
posted by mumimor at 12:48 PM on August 2, 2020 [6 favorites]

There's a small grocery store near where I live with a bit of a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern focus, but they have a pretty decent cheese selection (for an American grocery store, anyway). I've generally stuck to the more well-known cheeses I'm familiar with, but after reading this, next time I go I'm going to start branching out and trying some new types.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:59 PM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

There is an European grocery store near where my partner has just gone back to work. During the lockdown, we talked about making a pilgrimage, but it's a large store that is stuffed to the rafters with produce, seafood, smoked meats, deli, pastry, bakery, and stable shelf goods from all over, in very narrow aisles. Located in a northern suburb that kinda thinks this Covid whatnot is just, well, something that happens to other people, someplace else.
I mention this because they have the biggest selection of fresh feta I've ever seen, and I want to know exactly what why how and mmmmmwhat for, and then work my way through all the other fresh cheese on offer. And that's still so little of the cheese world.
Also as a professional wino I seriously need cheese to continue. Wine is fabulous, and wonderful, and I'll talk your head off about it all day long, but my favorite lazy way to sell a fuckton of wine is to offer cheese sample. It's cheating....
posted by winesong at 1:22 PM on August 2, 2020 [6 favorites]

Blessed are the cheese makers...
posted by Cardinal Fang at 1:28 PM on August 2, 2020 [13 favorites]

Related threads: Austerity cheese and a death in the Dales (Wensleydale, wartime); antique milk (Limburger).
posted by scruss at 1:38 PM on August 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Meanwhile, cheese life finds a way: French cheesemaker accidentally creates new 'lockdown' cheese.
posted by elgilito at 1:45 PM on August 2, 2020 [6 favorites]

I remember in the 1970's my mom would sometimes buy these small cheese sample packs at the grocery store. One of the cheeses within was called "brick cheese." I remember I liked it. It was almost white and sort of like manchego, or at least manchego is the closest thing I can compare it to from memory.

What the hell was brick cheese and where did it go?
posted by SoberHighland at 2:10 PM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

How a Cheese Goes Extinct

This is right up there with “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:18 PM on August 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

What the hell was brick cheese and where did it go?

Wisconsin, and Wisconsin.
posted by rodlymight at 2:26 PM on August 2, 2020 [11 favorites]

While they may not be extinct, almost all cheeses available in the US are dead by the time consumers get their hand on them because the FDA has taken it upon themselves to protect us from the horror of cheeses with the living organisms which produced their flavors and textures still alive and kicking.

It would be interesting to compare US rates of IBD, which I have seen pegged as high one in five, with the rates in lamentably unhygienic countries such as France and other nations that don't require cheese to be pasteurized.
posted by jamjam at 2:40 PM on August 2, 2020 [4 favorites]

...almost all cheeses available in the US are dead by the time consumers get their hand on them because the FDA has taken it upon themselves to protect us from the horror of cheeses with the living organisms...

To say nothing of what happens when something living and vibrant gets wrapped tightly in plastic for any extended period of time. It's a reason I often cringe when I hear someone is going to be bringing cheese to any sort of social gathering (not that we have these anymore). I never know what sort of horror may show up: a wedge of some soft ripened brie-like comestible, purchased on the way over from some random supermarket, its rind now reeking of ammonia.

I would go as far to say that even when buying from the most careful cheesemonger, it can be very difficult to know if, when you decide to pick something (to you) new and exotic, whether what you are getting is even close to what you'd have gotten buying the same cheese where it was produced.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 2:55 PM on August 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Not a huge fan of "goat" anything. But...

Cheese... Mmmmmmm
posted by Windopaene at 3:37 PM on August 2, 2020

What the hell was brick cheese and where did it go?

Check this out dear citizen.

...and also be aware that brick cheese can be aged; Widmer's sells young/mild, half-aged, and aged. Fully aged is akin to Limburger and should be treated with due reverence.
posted by aramaic at 4:39 PM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

My thought was vilified (probably not quite the right verb) but some cheesed, many things are just not so good.

Others fall out of favor because they’re simply not good: one extinct Suffolk cheese, “stony-hard” because it was made only with skimmed milk, was so notoriously bad that, in 1825, the Hampshire Chronicle reported that one ship’s cargo of grindstones was eaten by rats while the neighboring haul of Suffolk cheese escaped untouched.

Cheddar is just always good. (yeah meh store brands). OJ, lemons, limes are three of thousands of citrus species, many of which are cultivated academically and have tiny hard foul tasting fruit. Utterly grand that some folk keep old style methods and flavors but more interested in newer robust approaches also. I've never tasted limburger, it is still available (thank goodness for plastic wrap :-) will sometime. Hard to try some of those little super expensive pyramids, getting past "acquired taste" when very expensive is just not on the table.

One of the saddest parts of covid for me is the death of cheese samples.
posted by sammyo at 6:54 PM on August 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

My only knowledge of Limburger is as a stinky punchline in Saturday morning cartoons - example:

Cheery character 1, with a camera: "Say cheese!"
Grumpy character 2, keeping their frown: "Limburger."
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:15 PM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

posted by Wordshore at 11:10 PM on August 2, 2020

Gradually; then, suddenly.
posted by thelonius at 2:27 AM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

America has its own cheese that went extinct but was brought back; Liederkranz. It seems to me this is an issue with any foodstuff that depends on microbes for its unique character. I imagine there are any number of wines/beers, sourdough bread, and any other fermented foods you can think of that are no longer with us.
posted by TedW at 7:17 AM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Our local pan-ethnic grocery used to carry eight different kinds of fresh feta before coronavirus. They have two now. I had taken that as the store streamlining in a boring way, but now I'm worried some of the nice people making particular types of feta went under due to ...everything.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:18 AM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

As a result of reading this, I've signed up for one of those cheese box subscription things.... Always happy to do my part to save endangered cheeses.
posted by quacks like a duck at 8:59 AM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

one of our wedding cheeses

This is possibly the best reason to have a wedding.
posted by asperity at 9:30 AM on August 3, 2020 [6 favorites]

That cheese isn't extinct, it's just pining for the fjords. Oh wait, I got my sketches mixed up.
posted by exogenous at 4:41 PM on August 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

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