Cheeses of Reputation

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
The art of cheesemaking had progressed enough by late medieval times to inspire connoisseur-ship. The French court received shipments from Brie, Roquefort, Comté, Maroilles, and Geromé (Münster). Cheeses made near Parma in Italy and near Appenzell in Switzerland were renowned throughout Europe. In Britain, Cheshire cheese was famous by Elizabethan times, and Cheddar and Stilton by the 18th century. Cheese played two roles: for the poor, fresh or briefly ripened types were staple food, sometimes called “white meat,” while the rich enjoyed a variety of aged cheeses as one course of their multicourse feasts. By the early 19th century, the French gastronome Brillat-Savarin found cheese to be an aesthetic necessity: he wrote that “a dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman who is missing an eye.” The golden age of cheese was probably the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the art was fully developed, local styles had developed and matured, and the railroads brought country products to the city while they were still at their best.