On Costumes, Hip Hop & His Most Surprising Cheddar: 5 Questions with Cheddar Author Gordon Edgar
A strong believer that the world needs humor along with its cheese and booze, I'm a big fan of Gordon Edgar's books. They're cultural and well-researched, super interesting, and funny. And Gordon himself is pretty awesome too. In honor of the publication of his second book, Cheddar: A Journey to the Heart of America's Most Iconic Cheese, Gordon agreed to an interview. Below I ask him about hip hop's use of cheese in lyrics, cheese parties and costumes, and his favorite pairings (spoiler- a piece of cheese and his face).
I present you with 5 Questions with Gordan Edgar. Thank you, Gordon!
1. You've been all over the country promoting, with events that included driving around Wisconsin in a school bus to holding vertical tastings of chedar to see how it ages. In what region have you felt the most cheddar enthusiasm and did it involve costumes?
The cheddar bus trip was an amazing experience. Jeanne Carpenter organized it and it brought out cheddar lovers from all over the place. We started at Larry’s Market and then got to go on tours at Henning’s, LaClare, and Widmer’s – three of my favorite places to go in Wisconsin – and then I blah blah’d at folks between stops. CCP Elizabeth Nerud even recited an impromptu cheese poem at the end of the night while we rolled back to Milwaukee.
Vermont was pretty incredible too. Three events in 24 hours! Grafton, Provisions, Shelburne Farms, Cabot and Jasper Hill all collaborated to help make it happen. I did a talk at University of Vermont where I was honored by Professor Paul Kindstedt showing up. Then almost killed myself – as Californians driving in Vermont black ice conditions are wont to do – driving to Provisions to talk with about almost 100 cheese professionals. As soon as that was done I went to Brattleboro for a cheddar
party were I read a poem with local journalist and ex-monger Wendy Levy that likely had not been read aloud for 125 years or so. Costumes would have been the only thing that could have made that better, I wish I had talked to you beforehand.
The last time costumes and cheddar came into play historically that I know of was in 1951, the cheddar centennial in Rome, New York that commemorated the 100 year anniversary of America’s first cheddar factory. Cheese dignitaries came in from across country and the Rome (New York) Theater Guild produced a play about the life of Jesse Williams, “Father of Cheese Factories.” Alas, there was no revival of the performance for the 150 year anniversary. Let’s get ready for 2051, people!
2. What is your top favorite cheddar combo of all time? Feel free to say butter, bread and a pan, or go grand.
Yeah, it really is piece of cheddar and my face. I had a co-worker who used to just come over to the cheese counter during her break, buy a ¼ lb of cheddar, unwrap it, and just start chomping for lunch every day. I was in awe the first time I saw that and still think it is the ultimate way to enjoy a cheese.
If I am going to do cheddar for dinner, I’d add tart apples, dark honey, and sourdough bread or rustic crackers. For cooking, a medium sharp cheddar along with a little brie and fridge odds and ends for mac and cheese. Mmmmmmm.
3. You know a lot about cheddar. Does the hip hop world adopting the word "cheese," or more often "cheddar" as a euphemism for money make since to you? Why or don't you think "cheddar" in particular fits? Would chevre work too?
I actually wrote about this for Cheddar, but cut that section because -- while I can claim great knowledge and nuance about punk -- I am more of a tourist to hip hop. In punk, historically speaking, cheese references are usually about the government cheese that was available during the ‘80s at a time when there was a major surplus of milk and dairy farmers were getting paid off to cull their herds and get out of the milk business. I have heard that the hip hop use of “cheddar” has the same roots, but I couldn’t swear that’s true.
There is a historic use of staple, common food as a stand-in for money: dough, bread, lettuce, etc. That’s why “cheddar” works in this context but chevre doesn’t right now. It’s still exotic to most people. So, until there’s a bigger hip hop scene in Sonoma or Napa counties, or goat cheese mainstreams to urban areas, chevre would probably be used to signify something else.
4. You've tasted a lot of cheese in your history of cheesemongering and writing. While tasting for this book, which cheddar surprised you the most and why?
One that surprised me after I wrote the book I was shocked by the Red Barn Weis Heritage Cheddar from Wisconsin. Jeanne Carpenter of Cheese Underground arranged a bus trip of three Wisconsin cheesemakers and I read from my book between stops [side note from Kirstin, Jeanne, you rock]. Then we did a class together at Metcalfe’s Market in Madison. I had never tasted this cheese until we were doing the class and I fell in love immediately.
When researching Cheddar, I was trying to track down who made the last clothbound cheddar in America before it went extinct so I could see how many years this country had to do without. Sid Cook of Carr Valley pointed out to me that it wasn’t that clothbound cheese went extinct, it was the cave-aging that did. Sid, and a few other producers, were still cloth-wrapping cheese but aging them in wax.
The Weis Heritage Cheddar is this style and one of the best and most distinctive cheddars made in this country. All the milk comes from family-owned and operated farms of under 70 cows and the dairies are all certified humane. Plus, as far as I can tell, Red Barn Family Farms make the last raw milk cheddar in Wisconsin.
5. Lastly, if your last, multi-coursed, meal on planet earth had to be made entirely of Cheddar, what would you eat?
Appetizer: Cheese crisps made of Rumiano mild cheddar topped with two year Grafton Cheddar medallions.
Main: Center cut of Quicke’s two year vintage clothbound cheddar served over two year Widmer spears and an extra sharp Tillamook cheddar dipping sauce on the side.
Dessert: Wedges of sweet-sharp Prairie Breeze.
This would be pretty intense, but now that I’ve written it down, I kind of want to try it.
Thank you again, Gordon! There is much to be said for a man who enjoys a center cut.