11 Things You Might Not Know About Cheese

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ThinkStock

Happy National Cheese Day! Whether your thing is cream cheese, fancy cheese, spray cheese or night cheese, when it comes to this dairy product, there’s a whole lot to love. Here are 11 things you might not have contemplated about cheese—from royal-wedding cheese to the stinkiest cheese to couch-cushion cheese to the ultimate macaroni and cheese.

1. QUEEN VICTORIA RECEIVED A BEHEMOTH CHEESE AS A WEDDING PRESENT.


Wikimedia Commons

During the celebration of her wedding to her first cousin Prince Albert in 1840, Queen Victoria received the gift of a 1250-pound, 9-foot-diameter cheddar. It was produced by a cooperative of cheesemakers from two villages, according to Steven W. Jenkins in Cheese Primer. “Perhaps baffled by how to serve it, she sent the cheese off on a tour of England,” Jenkins writes. “When attempts were made to return it to her, she refused to take it back.”

2. ANDREW JACKSON GAVE NEW MEANING TO THE TERM “BIG CHEESE.”

Andrew Jackson
Wikimedia Commons

Fans of The West Wing might know a thing or two about this one. In 1835, a farmer in New York honored Andrew Jackson with a 1400-pound hulking hunk of cheddar cheese. Not knowing what to do with the mammoth cheddar, Jackson left it in the White House lobby to age for two years until he decided to throw his last public reception on George Washington’s birthday. “Everyone from Supreme Court justices to stable boys jammed the East Room to wish him well—and eat cheese,” writes Albert Marrin in Old Hickory: Andrew Jackson and the American People. “Oh, what a glorious day for cheese! Carpets grew slippery with cheese. Pockets filled with wedges of cheese. ‘All you heard was cheese; all you smelled was cheese,' a guest reported.”

3. THERE IS A SOMEWHAT OFFICIAL “WORLD’S STINKIEST CHEESE.”

Speaking of the smell of cheese, in 2004 researchers at Cranfield University in England used an “electronic nose,” along with a group of 19 human sniffers, to analyze cheese odors. A soft cheese from northern France called Vieux Boulogne was determined to be the most pungent. In fact, it even beat out Epoisses de Bourgogne, a cheese so stinky that it has apparently been banned from public transportation throughout France.

The Guardian had the Vieux Boulogne couriered to its offices, and reporter Patrick Barkham alleged that the cheese had “an aroma of six-week-old earwax.” He also wrote, “From a safe distance of 50 metres, the cheese emitted a pleasant eau de farmyard, replete with dung and Barbour jackets.”

4. THE WISCONSIN “CHEESEHEAD” BEGAN WITH A BURNT COUCH CUSHION.

While France is known for its elegant (and sometimes nostril-assaulting) cheeses, our very own Wisconsin holds its own in the cheese department. The No. 1 producer of cheese in the United States, the state license plate boasts “America’s Dairyland” and state legislators even honored Lactococcus lactis, the bacterium used to make Colby, cheddar, and Monterey Jack, as Wisconsin’s official microbe. But not only is Wisconsin home to a multitude of cheese producers, it just might be the official HQ of cheese lovers worldwide. After all, nothing but true, deep, utterly mad love would possess a person to wear a wedge of cheese as a hat.

The idea for the foam Cheesehead, now worn proudly by Wisconsinites at Green Bay Packers games, came to Milwaukee native Ralph Bruno nearly 27 years ago on a whim. Bruno told the Los Angeles Times that he was reupholstering his mother’s couch when he discovered he had a leftover cushion. He randomly began burning holes into the foam rubber until his mother shooed him outdoors because of the stench. Out in the yard, Bruno painted the cushion yellow and affixed it to his head. Then he wore it to a baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers. It caught on throughout the world of Wisconsin sports.

5. CHEESE BRINE IS AN ANTIDOTE FOR MILWAUKEE’S ICY ROADS.

If you thought nothing could top the foam Cheesehead in Wisconsinites’ dedication to all things cheese, think again. Last month, Milwaukee introduced a first-time program to repurpose cheese brine to keep its roads from freezing. Because rock salt is expensive, the brine was mixed with the salt to make it stretch further. The natural salts in the brine also help it to break down the ice and the snow.

6. THE HOLES IN SWISS CHEESE ARE NOT CAUSED BY NIBBLING MICE.

A piece of Swiss cheese
Wikimedia Commons

The holes in Swiss cheese, oddly called “eyes,” are caused by carbon dioxide gas bubbles that are produced by bacteria during fermentation, according to Don Vorhees in Why Do Donuts Have Holes? Fascinating Facts About What We Eat and Drink. The longer the cheese ferments, the larger the holes grow. By adjusting the various bacterial growth conditions like temperature, acidity, and the length of the curing time, a cheesemaker can control the size of the holes.

7. THERE WAS A VELVEETA SHORTAGE IN 2014 THAT CAME TO BE KNOWN AS A "CHEESEPOCALYPSE."

In early 2014, Kraft confirmed to NBC News that Velveeta was in limited supply. The cheese-loaf shortage was apparently due to Kraft moving Velveeta’s production lines from a plant in Minnesota to another plant in Illinois. NPR referred to the shortage as a possible “Cheesepocalypse.”

8. WHEN IN DOUBT ABOUT MOLDY CHEESE, TOSS IT OUT.

Moldy cheese
Wikimedia Commons

It’s well known that mold on cheese isn’t always something to worry about and sometimes it’s even to be enjoyed, but what about those times when a cheese should be thrown away? According to registered dietician Katherine Zeratsky on the Mayo Clinic’s website, soft cheeses like cream cheese, ricotta cheese and cottage cheese that have grown mold should be discarded. So should any type of cheese that’s crumbled, sliced, or shredded.

Hard and semisoft cheeses like Colby, cheddar, Parmesan and Swiss aren’t easily penetrated by mold, however, so you can cut away the moldy part and eat the rest. And of course cheeses like Camembert and Brie (and Gorgonzola—yum!), which mold is actually used to make, are completely safe to eat.

“If you’re not sure what type of cheese you have or what to do if it grows mold, the safe course is to discard it,” Zeratsky says.

9. THE VIRGIN MARY GRILLED CHEESE WAS SURPRISINGLY MOLD-FREE.

Back in 2004, there was that crazy grilled cheese sandwich that supposedly bore the face of the Virgin Mary and sold for $28,000 on eBay. The seller, Diana Duyser of Hollywood, Florida, apparently claimed that the sandwich was completely mold free, even though it was stored in a not-completely-airtight container. Brendan Koerner of Slate decided to exhaustively analyze how the sandwich failed to sprout a single spore of mold. He supplies several hypotheses, including the idea that the trans fats in the margarine repelled the mold and that the bread was full of mold-prohibitive preservatives. But, surprisingly, he also believes it very well could have been the cheese.

“The cheese filling, aside from contributing to the sandwich’s fat content, also added calcium to the mix,” Koerner explains. “Calcium is a mild mold retardant, though less so than margarine. The acidic cheese may have also altered the pH level of the sandwich; bread mold grows best when the pH is more or less neutral.”

10. AMERICA’S MOST POPULAR CHEESE DISH IS MAC AND CHEESE.

The award for most popular cheese recipe in the United States goes to macaroni and cheese, according to the International Dairy Foods Association. The largest macaroni and cheese, according to Guinness World Records, weighed 2469 pounds and was made by Cabot Creamery Cooperative in Fulton Square in New Orleans. The recipe called for 286 pounds of cheese, 575 pounds of cooked macaroni, 56 pounds of butter, 26 pounds of flour, 1100 pounds of milk, and 61 pounds of dry seasoning.

11. IT’S POSSIBLE TO BE A PROFESSIONAL CHEESE SCULPTOR

There are three professional cheese sculptors in the United States, according to NPR. Sarah Kaufmann, also known as the “Cheese Lady,” is one of them. Kaufmann carves cheese for Super Bowl parties, weddings, corporate functions, state fairs, and dairy-association events. Her sculptures have ranged from a 120-pound Mickey Mouse to a 300-pound gorilla to various TV personalities (Jay Leno, Matt Lauer, Marc Summers) to a six-foot long model of the USS Reagan aircraft carrier. “It’s much more delightful than working with wood or stone,” Kaufmann told NPR. “You can snack while you work.”

An earlier version of this article ran in 2014.

3 Cold Coffee Treats To Beat The Heat

Mental Floss Video
Mental Floss Video

Loving coffee is a year-round activity, but in the dog days of summer you may not be in the mood for a steaming hot cup of joe. That’s why we asked Eamon Rockey, Director of Beverage Studies at the Institute of Culinary Education, to help us concoct three delicious cold coffee treats.

Coffee tonic is a simple, refreshing alternative when you get sick of plain old iced coffee. Granita di caffè—basically a grown-up snow cone— is an Italian classic. And Eamon’s “milk and honey” take on a Greek frappè is a caffeinated milkshake with just enough sweetness to be addictive.

The recipes all start with cold brew concentrates, which are increasingly available at grocery stores and ensure a consistent product from start to finish. You could also use refrigerated coffee leftover from the morning or any other (preferably strong) iced coffee; you may sacrifice a bit of consistency and flavor, but something tells us they’ll still be delicious.

Coffee Tonic Recipe

Ingredients:

Grady’s Cold Brew Concentrate (or your preferred substitute)
Tonic Water
Ice
Lemon Peel

Instructions:

  1. Pour equal amounts of cold brew concentrate and tonic water into glass.
  2. Add ice and stir.
  3. “Express” (i.e. squeeze to release essential oils) a large piece of lemon peel into glass
  4. Garnish with lemon and serve.

Granita Di Caffè Recipe

Ingredients:

Red Thread Cold Brew Concentrate With a Hint of Chocolate (or your preferred substitute)
Simple Syrup (Optional)
Berries and/or Whipped Cream to Garnish

Instructions:

  1. Pour cold brew concentrate into a freezer safe vessel
  2. Optionally, for a sweeter treat, add ¼ cup simple syrup (50 percent water, 50 percent sugar) and stir
  3. Place into a freezer and let nearly freeze (1-2 hours)
  4. Break up any ice crystals with a fork and place back in freezer for roughly 30 minutes
  5. Repeat step four two or more times, as needed, until the mixture is all icy granules
  6. Alternately, skip steps three to six and leave coffee mixture until frozen (2-3 hours). Scrape vigorously with a fork. You may sacrifice some of the light texture of the other method, but the process is considerably simpler.
  7. Serve with berries or (ideally fresh) whipped cream

“Milk and Honey” Greek Frappè Recipe

Ingredients:

One Half of a Vanilla Bean
3 Tbsp. Heavy Cream
3 Tbsp. Honey
3 Tbsp. Milk
4 oz. Grady’s Cold Brew Concentrate (or your preferred substitute)
Splash of soda water (optional)
Ice

Instructions:

  1. Scrape half of a vanilla bean and add to heavy cream
  2. Make whipped cream by mixing with whisk/hand mixer, or by shaking vigorously in cocktail shaker
  3. Add honey to milk and stir to combine
  4. Add milk/honey mixture to whipped cream and stir
  5. Pour cold brew concentrate and a splash of soda water into glass
  6. Add ice
  7. Top with half of the whipped cream/milk/honey mixture and stir
  8. Garnish with the leftover vanilla bean pod 

14 Freshly-Brewed Facts About Starbucks

Starbucks
Starbucks

When Howard Schultz visited Milan, Italy in 1983 and realized the city was home to more than 1500 coffee bars, a light bulb went off in his head. Four years later, the ambitious Schultz acquired Starbucks—which had previously only sold ground coffee in bags, with no single servings—and proceeded to turn it from a six-store Seattle operation into a global phenomenon. Unlock the secrets of your home away from home with these 14 frothy facts.

1. Starbucks has a ban on smells.

Because aroma is so crucial to the Starbucks experience, Schultz—the company's longtime CEO who retired in 2018 and is now its Chairman Emeritus—laid down the law early on: Nothing can interfere with the smell of their freshly-ground coffee. The stores banned smoking in the late 1980s, years before the practice was commonplace; employees are alsao asked not to wear perfume or cologne [PDF].

2. The Starbucks mermaid used to show nipple.


Jim Forest, Flickr // CC BY NC-ND-2.0

The siren of the famous Starbucks logo is intended to represent the seductive power of coffee, with her hair tastefully covering any hint of immodesty. But when Starbucks was still a regional chain in 1970s Seattle, their logo was far more candid: The mermaid had fully-exposed breasts. Some customers commented on it, but it didn’t become scandalous until the company began making deliveries and had to put their signage on trucks. Reluctant to traffic in portable nudity, the logo was revised.

3. An immunologist cracked the Starbucks coffee code.

Infectious disease specialist Don Valencia was essentially just goofing off in 1990 when he developed a coffee bean extract that smelled and tasted just like the real thing. After neighbors couldn’t tell the difference between his sample and fresh coffee, he tried it out on a barista. Eventually, word got to Starbucks executives, who hired Valencia in 1993. Using his discovery to branch out into retail sales, Starbucks quickly became a top-seller of bottled coffee and super-premium ice cream—for a time, they even outsold pint-sized king Häagen-Dazs.

4. There have been Starbucks stores made out of old shipping containers.

A Starbucks store made out of a shipping container
Starbucks

In a monument to the company’s eco-friendly attitude, several stores built out of retired shipping containers have opened since 2011. Some use run-off drains to feed rainwater to nearby vegetation; others use local materials such as discarded wooden fencing to complete the job. The recycled storefronts are typically drive-thru only, but video cameras allow patrons to see a friendly barista's face. At 1000 square feet, they’re also smaller than a typical store—and Starbucks has every intention of using that tiny footprint to burrow its way into locations previously thought to be too small to lease.

5. Starbucks managers were forced to play with Mr. Potato Head.

Eager to ramp up efficiency in the face of stiffer competition in 2009, Starbucks dispatched executive Scott Heydon for some updated managerial training. To demonstrate how employees can cut down on idle time behind the counter, Heydon instructed managers to assemble a Mr. Potato Head toy and then put him back in his box in under 45 seconds. At least one supervisor was able to pick up the scattered pieces and re-assemble the spud in under 16 seconds.

6. The Starbucks CIA location is as secretive as you’d expect.

Man drinking coffee and using his laptop
hitmanphoto/iStock via Getty Images

Like most office buildings, the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia runs on caffeine. But it doesn’t run like a typical Starbucks: Baristas undergo background checks and aren't allowed to leave their posts without a CIA escort. Customer names cannot be called out or written on cups due to security concerns. Despite the precautions, it’s still a social atmosphere: According to The Washington Post, one key member of the team that assisted in locating Osama bin Laden was recruited there.

7. The Starbucks employee dress code is very specific.

When Schultz opened his line of Il Giornale espresso bars in 1985, he mandated employees wear the bow ties and crisp white shirts common in Italy. The current dress code [PDF] has relaxed on the Pee-Wee attire but still insists on a certain kind of conformity. Rings cannot have stones; brightly-colored purple or pink hair is not welcome; untucked shirts can’t expose your midsection when bending over; ear gauges should be less than 10mm. Think you're going to sport a face tattoo or septum ring? Mister, the only thing you’re brewing is trouble.

8. California has a Starbucks ski-thru.

Skiers in Squaw Valley, California looking for a caffeine fix don’t have to take off their equipment: the Starbucks at the Gold Coast Resort is open to visitors via a Ski-Thru. They also take orders from the aerial lift. What could be better?

9. Nonfat milk resulted in a Starbucks corporate standoff.

When Howard Behar came to Starbucks as an executive in 1989, he was dismayed to find that many customers had filled out comment cards voicing their desire for nonfat milk. But Schultz and his team had decided they didn’t like the taste and that nonfat wasn’t authentically Italian. Behar argued that customers should get whatever they wanted. Store managers protested, but when Schultz personally witnessed a customer walk out over the lack of options, he relented. Today, it's estimated that half of the company’s cappuccinos and lattes are frothed without fat.

10. You can get a Butterbeer frappucCino at Starbucks (if you know the right way to ask).


RosieTulips, Flickr // CC BY NC-ND-2.0

The preferred thirst-quencher for Harry Potter fans, Butterbeer isn’t really available outside of the books or the Universal Studios attraction—but you can get a pretty good approximation by requesting a Frappucino with caramel syrup, caramel drizzle, and toffee nut syrup.

11. The round tables at Starbucks may help you feel less lonely.

Feeling self-conscious about sitting in a Starbucks by yourself? Don’t be: the round tables are there to help. The company believes that circular dining areas can make a space feel less empty when compared to the stern edges of a rectangular or square table. They don’t want you to feel alone. So, so alone.

12. The Disney Starbucks has magic chalkboards.

When Starbucks opened at Downtown Disney in Orlando, Florida, some of the company’s trademark features were tweaked to fit their magical affiliation. The chalkboard was re-imagined as a 70-inch touch screen that can render illustrations in real time. Customers can also “draw” on the screen using their fingers, take selfies, and see what visitors in Disney’s Anaheim Starbucks are up to.

13. Some Starbucks stores have the technology for the greatest cup of coffee possible.

Starbucks cares a great deal about serving an excellent cup of coffee. Employees never let brewed pots sit for more than 30 minutes, and stores use no artificially-flavored grounds. The next giant leap in bean prep might be the Clover, a proprietary machine engineered by Stanford that costs $13,000 to install and uses a vacuum and elevator system to shoot coffee grounds upward with precision water temperatures the result is said to be a peerless experience. If you’re lucky enough to be near a store that has one, expect to pay up to $5 a cup.

14. Customers think Starbucks gives away newspapers. It doesn't. Now it doesn't sell them, either.

For years, many Starbucks locations provided newspapers like The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to customers. That practice stopped in September 2019. Why? People believed the papers were provided as a gratuity and left them in a pile or walked out with a paper without paying.

Additional Sources: Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup At a Time.

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