CHEDDAR: A JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF AMERICA'S MOST ICONIC CHEESE
Author: Gordon Edgar
One of the oldest, most ubiquitous, and beloved cheeses in the world, cheddar has a fascinating history. Over the years, it has been transformed from a painstakingly handmade wheel to a rindless, mass-produced block to a liquefied and emulsified plastic mass untouched by human hands. In many ways, the Henry Fordism of cheddar production anticipated the advent of industrial agriculture. They don’t call it “American Cheese” for nothing.
Cheddar is one man’s picaresque journey to find out what a familiar food can tell us about ourselves. Cheddar may be appreciated in almost all American homes, but the advocates of the traditional wheel versus the processed slice often have very different ideas about food. Since cheddar—with its diversity of manufacturing processes and tastes—is such a large umbrella, it is the perfect food to discuss many big food issues that face our society.
More than that, though, cheddar holds a key to understanding issues surrounding food politics and some of the ways we think of our cultural identity. Cheddar, and its offshoots, have something to tell us about this country: the way people rally to certain cheddars but not others; the way they extol or denounce the way others eat it; the role of the commodification of a once-artisan cheese, and the effect that has on rural communities. The fact that cheddar is so common that it is often taken for granted means examining it can lead us to discover usually unspoken truths.
Author Gordon Edgar (Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge) is well-equipped to take readers on a tour through the world of cheddar. For more than 15 years, he has worked as an iconoclastic cheesemonger in San Francisco. Still, his sharp talent for observation and social critique was honed long before then in the world of ’zines, punk rock, and progressive politics. His fresh perspectives on such a seemingly common topic are as thought-provoking as they are entertaining.