This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Sydney Smith, when writing to Robert Murchison, the geologist (December, 1841), said: "Heaven send I may understand your book, but my knowledge of the science is too slender for that advantage, - a knowledge which just enables me to distinguish between the caseous and the cretaceous formations; or, as the vulgar have it, to "know chalk from cheese"; (the real meaning of which is to have ready possession of one's wits; to know a poor, spurious article from a good, or genuine one). Groaning Cheese, as we read in Bourne's Popular Antiquities, takes a part in the blithement, or entertainment, provided after the birth, or at the christening, of an infant. "It is customary at Oxford to cut what we in the north call the Groaning Cheese in the middle, when the babe is born, and to so proceed with the cutting as by degrees to form with it a large kind of ring, through which the child is passed on the christening day." "As thin as Banbury Cheese" was a favourite simile with our ancestors: "Our lands and glebes are clipped and pared to become as thin as Banbury Cheese".
A Welsh Rabbit, which is practically Cheese-toast, is popularly so named after a jocular fashion, much the same as a "Norfolk capon,"or red herring, or "Glasgow magistrate."Similarly an Essex Hon is a calf, a Field Lane duck is a baked sheep's head, and potatoes are Irish plums, or Irish apricots. "Rosted Cheese," wrote Dr. Tobias Venner (Via Recta ad vitam longam, 1620), "is more meete to entise a mouse or rat into a trap than to be received into the bodie, for it corrupteth the meats in the stomacke, breedeth adust cholericke humours, and sendeth up from the stomacke putrid vapours, and noysome fumes which greatly offend the head, and corrupt the breath." "To conclude, (he adds), "the much eating of Cheese is onely convenient for rustick people, and such as have very strong stomackes, and that also use great exercise." So much for the old author! Per contra we read in Pickwick what Charles Dickens thought on the subject: "A couple of Mrs. Bardell's most particular acquaintance had just stepped in at her house in Goswell Street to have a quiet cup of tea, and a little warm supper of a couple of sets of pettitoes, and some toasted Cheese. The said Cheese was simmering, and browning away most delightfully in a little Dutch oven before the fire, and the pettitoes were getting on deliriously in a little tin saucepan on the hob".
"Though Welsh Rabbit be so called, yet no one knoweth well why ye name be added,"said Mrs. Glasse. The Welsh Rabbit, if it has ever been a local dish (the name may possibly be Gaelic), has never certainly within the knowledge, or memory of present man been a Welsh dish. It was a special attribute of the London Club House, or Tavern, of the old school. Three or four Welsh Rabbits apiece were a fair allowance as supper for a man of average appetite; and our great-grandfathers ate them, and went (or were carried) to bed, and slept none the worse, nor dreamed of gout, or dyspepsia. In those days every Tavern of London had its Welsh-Rabbit maker, whilst the price of this dish was eighteenpence. The cook brought Cheese-grater, hard bits of stale Cheese, thick slices of stale bread three or four days old, a pat of fresh butter, a mustard pot, and a gill of old ale. Into a clean saucepan went the ale, and it was quickly brought to a boiling point; the Cheese, first grated fine, went in next, followed by the butter, and the mustard. For some persons the bread was toasted, for others merely warmed in the oven; and on this the seething mass was poured, and then immediately placed before the eater.
Such is the only genuine formula for making a Welsh Rabbit. A modern cookery book will order to 'melt shoes of rich Cheese,' evidently without knowing that Cheese, to be mixed thoroughly with the other ingredients, and to be rendered digestible by thorough cooking, must be grated. Slices of melted Cheese will mix with nothing, and would rapidly cool into a capital imitation of shoe-leather".
New Cheese has some acid reaction, but by degrees, as the Cheese ripens, this disappears. Some of the casein begins to decompose, and evolves ammonia, which neutralizes the acid of the Cheese; likewise the fatty acids combine with the ammonia, and become neutral. If the fermentative ripening of Cheese goes on to actual putrefaction, then poisonous products become developed, and may be mischievously taken up into the blood. But certain kinds of Cheese, when only partially decayed, will start a useful digestive fermentation in the contents of the stomach, after a full meal, just as sour leaven when introduced into sweet dough, will cause the whole mass to ferment; and therefore it is that the taking a small portion of Cheese, partly decayed (but not putrid), at the end of an ample dinner, will promote the better digestion of the whole meal. Old Cheese can scarcely be discerned to be the same as when it was new. Matthiolus (1570), was of opinion that only then is it good for gouty persons, being also applied outwardly to the parts where they feel their great pains; some persons have been instanced who by the use thereof have been recovered.
Dr. Haig says: "No one has, I believe, found any xanthin, or uric acid, in milk, or Cheese".
To summarize the matter, Cheese may be eaten for two distinct purposes: either for the general sustenance of the body as a food abundant in animal nourishment (casein), and warming fat, with milk sugar; or as a sort of digestive condiment, taken, as it were, in morsel form just at the end of the usual fare, as is customary at old-fashioned dinner tables, with a ripe Cheese in a tasty stage of decay, and mould. The vegetable moulds of Cheese are Aspergillus glaucus, blue and green; Sporindonema casei, red; and the Cheese mite is an Acarus. The savoury principle of Cheese, a chemical oxide termed "leucine,"has of all foodstuffs the highest sapidity.
"Mice,"wrote old Fuller, "are the best tasters of the tenderest Cheese, and have given their verdict for the goodness of the Welsh." Horace Smith tells a little story which is appropriate in this respect: " 'My dear children,' said an old rat to his young family, 'the infirmities of age are pressing so heavily upon me that I have determined to dedicate the short remainder of my days to mortification and penance, in a narrow and lonely hole which I have lately discovered; but let me not interfere with your juvenile enjoyments: youth is the season for pleasure: be happy therefore, and obey my last injunction, never to come near me in my retreat! God bless you all!' Deeply affected, whilst snivelling audibly, and wiping his paternal eye with his tail, the old rat withdrew, and was seen no more for several days, when his youngest daughter, moved rather by filial affection than by that sense of curiosity which is attributed to her sex, stole to his cell of mortification, which turned out to be a cavity made by his own teeth in the choice substance of an enormous Cheshire Cheese".
"The farmer's daughter hath soft brown hair, (Butter and eggs, and a pound of cheese.) And I met with this ballad I can't say where, Which wholly consisted of lines like these: (Butter, and eggs, and a pound of cheese.) "
G. S. Calverley. - Fly Leaves.
"I be most mortal 'ungry,"says the rustic cottager of Devon in his peasant speech; "I can ayte a gude hulch ov burd an' cheese, wan za big's my tu vistes."Some famous gourmet has remarked that dinner without Cheese is like a woman with only one eye.
A Cheese cake is a pastry cake filled in its middle with a custard of soft curds, sugar, egg, butter, and spice. This sort of cake is first mentioned in the Latin work De re Rustica, ascribed to Cato, the elder, of Utica. He simply terms it "Placenta," which is the Latin word for a cake in general, and not for any particular cake. Cheese in connection with such a cake does not mean ripe Cheese in the ordinary sense, but freshly-pressed curds, or casein. In ancient Rome such cakes were sometimes made of large size, as they are in Germany at the present time. Cheese cakes have a basis of flake dough, or puff paste, shaped like a small, flat saucer, which contains the mixed custard.
Sydney Smith, when writing to Master Humphrey Mildmay (April, 1837), from London, said: "In the Greek war the surgeons used Cheese and wine for their ointments; and in Henry the Eighth's time cobbler's wax, and rust of iron were the ingredients; so, you see, it's of some advantage to be living in Berkeley Square, Anno Domini 1837".
A few years back there was current a cockney slang expression, "Quite the Cheese."It actually originated in India, where the Hindustan word "chiz"(thing,) is thus applied; "quite the thing"runs as the true phrase there.