Michael Easson


To Cheese

Published in The Chesterton Review, Vol. 39, No.s 3&4, Fall; Winter, 2013, pp. 268-269

G.K. Chesterton – “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”

Tough little Miss Muffet,
Eating her curds and whey
Swaying on her tuffet
Would have thought about a better way,
And tastier stuff than her messy dish.

Gruyere and Swiss baked brie, fondue and macaroni,
Something topped with jam, wrapped in puff pastry,
Cranberry and cheddar nibbles,
Strawberries and frittata, with sesame sprinkles
Savoury cheese pie and cheesecake sit top of the shortlist.

Moist, soft or hard or toasted,
Double creamed, moulded, brined or processed,
It can be pretty tasty – from parmesan, feta, gorgonzola, tallegio
Paneer, halloumi, and telemea and Reggiano Padano,
Roquefort to ostkaka – and we are far from finished.

With Adam and Eve there was no cheese,
For most adults could not produce much lactase.
To digest better in lactose intolerant earliest days
Adaptive proliferation on chromosome 2 was the only way.
That cheese nourished natural selection is the gist of this.

Maybe shepherds and villagers once noticed that milk left
To sour naturally was able to be stored and kept,
The whey hardest to digest, the simplest cheeses they figured
Could be milk curdled with lemon juice or vinegar.
Sour cheese is produced from this ancient tip.

With cow’s milk the bulk becomes clumping, curdling, cheese potential,
And the recalcitrant fluid whey saved as a food essential.
Fresh curds kneaded in hot water gets stretched for mozzarella,
Stored in brine it’s easily shipped, used for pizza.
Italian ricotta comes from the liquid bit.

An inexact practice, cheeses are categorised,
Tagged by length of ageing, and moisture content and labelled
By animal source, country and region of origin,
Fat content, and if factory made or artisan.
Sorting between ‘soft’, ‘semi-soft’, ‘semi-hard’, and ‘hard’ is the trick.

There are hundreds cheeses on the register
Including smooth, runny or gooey textures
Soft ripened, chalky cheeses, depend on the pressure with which they are packed
Exposed to mould some of them, aged from the exterior inwards and back
Who can say ‘no’ to a flexible, bite-sized crusty slice of that?

Blue veins give assertive flavours and a name.
Beginning firm in texture, a velvety bloom of mould frames
Over and by piercing a ripening block with skewers
The penicillium candida grows within as the cheese ages bluer.
Nothing to chance is the mystery of technique and habit.

Originating from an English village
Cheddar now sadly stands for processed packages,
Pre-sliced or unsliced, consistent and inexpensive,
Emulsifying salts, preservatives, and food colouring additives.
If Cheddar is to win its Champagne moment, surely a poem could re-enthrone it.

– Michael Easson