Hokey, probably unrealistic, but is there a problem that cheese cannot solve?  I have been bothered by the question since I first read it.  It was printed on a man’s T-shirt and seen at a cheese convention (yes, those really happen).  While I did not question him directly, I thought about his confidence to wear something so seemingly unintelligent. I mean, what sort of problems can cheese solve? Quantum physics? Geometry?

At the time, I thought about his shirt and its sentiment (while examining a display of cheese) and decided that the problems that cheese can “solve” involved hunger and delivering an amazing variety of tastes.

Still, his T-shirt statement (and confidence to publicly proclaim it) percolated within me, creating a sense of wonderment. What if cheese really could solve all problems?  Would you have to live a charmed life?  A charmed life where nothing ever presented itself as a real problem?

Since we know that does not happen, I went looking for examples of problems that cheese had “solved.” Where I expected this to be a quick none and done exercise, I found that there were more examples of cheese as a problem solver than I had expected.

Take Wisconsin for example. Yes – the entire state, and no, the state is not a problem – rather they had one. Rewind a bit and you may recall that Wisconsin was once considered “America’s breadbasket.” Surprised? Yes, I was too.  From the 1840s through the 1880s over one-sixth of the wheat grown in the nation came from Wisconsin.  In this time it was wheat farming (not dairy or cheese) that helped Wisconsin’s agriculture develop more rapidly than other states.

However by the late 1850s, the price of wheat began to drop as competition from Iowa and Minnesota took root. Wisconsin’s real problem happened in the 1860s, when tiny insects (chinch bugs) began devouring the Wisconsin wheat crop. In a state of crisis the problem of how to move farming (and the state’s livelihood) forward, the state collectively choose, drum-roll please, cheese. Indeed, looking back in time it is clear that cheese solved a Wisconsin sized problem.

Smaller in scale and further west, cheese was at the forefront of problem solving in 1865 San Francisco. As miners retreated from the Gold Rush and flocked to urban areas, eggs were in short supply. Breakfast cheese was born when a dairy farmer from Marin County, created a mild, palm-sized cheese to meet the burgeoning demand for a protein replacement for hungry dockworkers. Score another problem solved by cheese.

Go further back in time and come to realize that washed rind cheeses (Tallegio, Epoisse, etc) are tied to the religiously persecuted. Monks, while hiding in caves and living in remote mountainous regions solved part of their economic problem with inventiveness and through the sale of cheeses.

What really surprised me was the contemporary ability of cheese to bring seemingly divisive partisan political factions together.  Not over a shared meal or single piece of cheese, but instead over ideas. Can cheese really solve that?  Well, it did. This spring a group including Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, signed a letter on the behalf of cheese-makers to waive FDA concerns that were poised to threaten cheese-makers livelihoods.  As I see it, their united passion for cheese solved a precipitous problem for all of us turophiles (cheese-lovers).

All in all, when I look at it, there may not be a problem that cheese cannot solve. It’s not a sudden change like I suspect that winning the lottery would be, but a more problem solving over time.  Cheese can and has solved significant problems.  Maybe, just maybe, there’s not a problem that cheese cannot solve.  I should find a T-shirt to proclaim that.




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