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How 8 Famous Cheeses Got Their Names

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It’s a known fact that cheese can make anything at least 40% better. Ever wonder where cheeses got their names, though? Here’s a look at the back stories of a few familiar cheeses.

1. Roquefort

Roquefort has a decidedly romantic origin story. According to French legend, a young shepherd was eating his lunch at the mouth of a cave one day when he spied a gorgeous shepherdess in the distance. He left his bread and cheese to pursue the girl, only to find the forgotten cheese several months later. By that time, the cave’s mold had transformed the cheese into something far tastier.

The story may be a bit far-fetched, but it gets the basic facts of Roquefort production right. The name is legally protected so that it only applies to cheeses aged in the caves that burrow into Mount Combalou near the French commune of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. The commune’s residents have had plenty of time to get the production methods down pat, too; Roman writer Pliny the Elder mentioned a Roquefort-like cheese from the area in a text from AD 79.

2. Cheddar

Roquefort’s not the only cheese that takes its name from an area with lots of caves. Cheddar, which has been around since at least the 12th century, takes its name from the English village of Cheddar. The nearby Cheddar Gorge is full of caves that offer ideal conditions for aging cheese, so dairy farmers and their wives began using their surplus milk to make a new kind of cheese. Unlike a lot of other cheeses with geographically protected names, modern cheddar can come from anywhere, not just the area around Cheddar.

Cheddar cheese eventually became one of England’s most popular snacks. In 1170, King Henry II bought over five tons of the cheese for the bargain price of just a little over £10. By the time Charles I took over the throne in 1625, demand for the cheese had grown so high that the only place one could find it was at the king’s court.

3. Monterey Jack

Monterey Jack only takes half of its name from a place. Franciscan friars around Monterey, CA, crafted a mild white cheese throughout the 19th century, but the semi-hard treat didn’t begin spreading until Scottish immigrant David Jack started marketing his own version of the cheese.

When Jack first came to the U.S. in 1841 he worked as an army contractor, and he eventually became so successful that he owned most of the real estate in Monterey County. Jack was a notoriously ruthless landlord – when Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson visited the area on a research trip, his advice to the locals was “to hang David Jack” – but the rapid expansion of his land holdings left him owning shares in a number of dairies. Jack eventually made the decision to begin mass-marketing the friars’ cheese recipe, first under the name “Jack’s cheese” and later as “Monterey Jack.”

4. Colby

Monterey Jack’s frequent partner in deliciousness is also an American invention. In 1885 Wisconsin cheesemaker Joseph F. Steinwand started varying his production process for cheddar by washing the curds with cold water. The washing process cut down on the acidity of the cheese and gave it a milder flavor than regular cheddar. Steinwand named his creation after the nearby town of Colby, WI.

When you buy Colby at a deli, it will often bear the name “Longhorn Colby.” What’s the story on the “longhorn” part? The cheese itself is actually no different from any other Colby you’d find. The term “longhorn” refers to the size and shape of the block the cheese comes in; a longhorn is simply a long cylindrical block of cheese.

5. Pecorino

This one’s pretty straightforward. Pecora is the Italian word for sheep, so the family of hard Italian sheep milk cheeses goes by the name pecorino.

6. Havarti

If you enjoy Havarti, thank Hanne Nielson. Nielson created the cheese at her family’s farm in Øverød, just north of Copenhagen, during the mid-19th century. Nielson had decided that she wanted to create a Danish equivalent to Switzerland’s tasty semihard cheeses after doing some traveling around Europe, and the buttery Havarti was the end result of her experimentation. She named the cheese after the family’s farm, which was known as Havarthigaard.

7. Mozzarella

The pizza lover’s best friend takes its name from the diminutive of the word mozza, which in Neapolitan dialect means “cut.” “Mozza” in turn derives from the verb mozzare, which means “to cut off.” The name refers to how the cheese is produced; making mozzarella involves cutting the curds and then shaping them into the familiar balls you see in cheese shops.

8. American cheese

The processed cheese that so frequently ends up atop our burgers didn’t get its name from Americans. Instead, we can thank the British for this moniker. When British colonists first came to North America, they brought their knowledge of cheddar production with them and began cranking out cheeses in impressive volumes.

These early colonial cheddars weren’t the world’s tastiest cheeses, but they were pretty cheap to make. In fact, the production costs were low enough that colonists could ship them back across the pond and sell them at discount prices back home. British shoppers didn’t love the quality of this “Yankee cheddar” or “American cheese,” but since it was easy on the pocketbook it sold fairly briskly.

The cheese trade continued after the Revolution, and by 1878, Americans were sending over 300 million pounds of cheese back to England every year. Americans were also enthusiastic eaters of the cheese, but they called it either “yellow cheese” or “store cheese.”

What we think of as “American cheese” didn’t come along until 1916, when James L. Kraft patented a pasteurization process that stabilized cheese to allow for easy transport over long distances. The name “American cheese” gradually migrated to Kraft’s processed cheeses, and now the mere mention of the phrase causes cheese aficionados’ noses to wrinkle.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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