Schuh column: Say cheese
By Jim Schuh
You may be among the few who enjoy limburger cheese. There apparently aren’t many who do, because in the United States, there’s just one cheese plant that makes it. The Chalet Cheese Cooperative near Monroe is the lone producer. I wonder if you can smell it when driving past the cheese plant.
Limburger is mild-tasting, but its fragrance often drives people away.
I happen to be among those who like limburger, but we almost never buy any. We’re fearful its smell might “contaminate” the other stuff in our refrigerator. Aficionados say it tastes best on rye bread, perhaps with a slice of onion.
I wonder if U.S. produced limburger might be in jeopardy. That’s because Chalet Cheese is making less of it every year. Production is less than 500,000 pounds.
When looking at cheese production in general, Wisconsin is the nation’s top producer, with 27 percent of all domestic cheese coming out of the state. Maybe to distinguish ourselves from California which produces much more milk than Wisconsin, we need to change our slogan from “America’s Dairyland” to “America’s Cheese Capital.”
Wisconsin’s total cheese production is around 800,000,000 pounds and a quarter of it is in specialty cheeses, like Blue, Feta, Havarti, Hispanic types, specialty Mozzarella, Parmesan wheel, and gouda. The state has about 130 cheese plants.
We’re fortunate to have two wonderful cheese plants and stores nearby – Dairy State in Rudolph and Mullins in Knowlton. Before we head south for a vacation, we always take cheese orders from our friend and relatives in Alabama and load up on big blocks of mozzarella and smaller chunks of cranberry-infused cheese. That assures a warm welcome when we arrive.
When you visit someone or go to dinner at a friend’s place, you can’t go wrong if you present your hosts with a package of cheese. If you do that, it’s probably wise to avoid limburger and select a nice Havarti instead.
At our house, when we run out of ideas over what to have for dinner, a good choice is a toasted cheese sandwich. We use cheddar or Havarti inside whole grain bread and prepare the sandwich in a skillet. The golden-brown nutty flavor of the toast combined with the squishy cheese makes for good eating.
I don’t know how cheese became mousetrap bait. Perhaps the idea originated in cartoons. But the Victor people who make mousetraps have this to say about cheese and mousetraps: “Forget the old cartoon image of mice eating cheese. The rodents are primarily nut and seed eaters, so the mouse trap bait they are most strongly attracted to is peanut butter or hazelnut spread. Their hunger for calories also entices them to try chocolate.”
As tasty as cheese is, the word has a dark side. The adjective “cheesy” came into use to mean second-rate, cheap, inferior, junky, lousy, low-grade, worthless, shoddy, sleazy, ultra-cheap, trashy, and even schlock.
Dictionary.com says “cheesy” may have originated in 1896 as student slang when the word “cheese” meant cheap or inferior, and an ignorant, stupid person. But some have suggested the modern derogatory meaning is an “ironic reversal” of the time when the definition of “cheesy” was fine and showy. We’ll never know for sure. Meanwhile, I’ll ignore all that and keep enjoying my cheese.
Some people limit their cheese intake, fearing a jump in their cholesterol numbers. As with anything, moderation is key. For me, cheese is just too good to avoid.
If you want to be a fatalist, you can always make the argument that you’re going to eat as much cheese as you want, because in the end, you’ll die anyway. If you do, you’ll probably die happy!