How You Slice It

How Ones Cuts It
Epiphany 30

From gathering picked apples in an apron to paper bags (mentioned in the early days of this series) to the plastic bags now illegal for use in some areas, mankind has needed a place to hold things. Hands are great but not always suitable. The earliest storage bags were the stomachs of animals. Legend states that it was an Arabian farmer who first used a sheep or goat’s stomach for holding excess milk. Over the course of several days, the milk turned to whey and then curds. The stomach lining emitted rennet which produced a better texture and a more solid cheese, the name of which originally coming from words which meant “to sour”.

Greek mythology gives credit to Aristaeus for discovering cheese and Homer’s “Odyssey”, written in the eighth century BCE gives an accounting of the Cyclops making cheese from goat and sheep milk. Archaeological findings from Poland have resulted in the discovery of five thousand year old strainers with milk molecules on them. The domestication of sheep at this time gives additional credence to the supposition that cheese was a food product of the area.

As the Roman army extended their conquests across Europe, different ways to produce cheese became known. Climate and different cattle produced different textures and tastes of cheese and larger vessels became popular for the making, shaping, and storing of cheese. Although seldom found in Asian cooking and subject to the strict dietary laws of Islam and Judaism, cheese is a food common in all parts of the world. Cheese as a food was both nutritional and easy to carry and store. However, finding one universal way for cutting cheese was elusive. Some cheeses were soft and crumbled easily while others resulted in hard bricks of cheese which could dull the common knife.

Norwegian Thor Bjorklund was a carpenter who despaired of cutting cheese as thin as he liked it until he had his own epiphany. Taking his carpentry tools into the kitchen, he used a carpenter’s plane to slice the rock-hard brown cheese common to Norway. With four simple components – a blade with a sharp edge, a spacer, a pin, and a shaft, Bjorklund obtained a patent for his cheese slicer in 1925. Also used to slice potatoes or cucumbers, even peel asparagus, Bjorklund’s bright idea made cutting the nine thousand year-old food product known as chesse much easier. In 1982 Swiss Nicholas Crevoisier invented the “girolle”, another type of cheese slicer which scrapes across the type of hard Swiss cheese and produces little rosette-shaped crumbles.

American writer and television/radio personality Clifton Fadiman once said of cheese: “Cheese is milk’s leap toward immortality.” Regardless of its location, texture, or taste, the basic premise and the beginnings of cheese are all the same. Milk is gathered and then stored, allowed to sour. Once the milk has soured, the curds and whey are separated and rennet is added. Depending on the type of milk and the diet of the animal from which it came, the taste of the finished product varies greatly. All cheese, however, is simply the milk protein casein fermented.

Many times in our own lives things turn sour; plans go awry. These seemingly mishaps can depress and occasionally make one question their own existence. Sometimes we cannot see the value in the souring process. This is where faith, spirituality, and the human spirit come into play. Much like the rennet added to the soured milk, these things allow us to separate what we can learn from what went wrong.

Some cheeses do not use rennet but rely on a small amount of acidity to complete their transformation from soured liquid to soft cheese. Other types of cheese have rennet added and then are heated. Still others, like cheddar, go through a series of processing of the curds. Others are molded and aged. With over one thousand types of cheese, five hundred considered “common”, the taste variations and combinations are practically endless. In 2011 over twenty million metric tons of cheese was consumed.

What if we took the sour things from our lives and made them into something positive? Some cheeses like mozzarella are elastic. Certainly life calls for us to have elasticity in our living. Other cheeses are as solid as rock and definitely being firm in one’s morals is a good thing. Being firm in respecting the life and dignity of another human being is also necessary for the world to thrive. With knowledge and experience, we can make great use of our own life events. We can make what at first appears disagreeable and unpleasant into something productive. Life is all about living and it certainly is not just for the wealthy, the young, and the popular. Life has value. When we slice the tart and sour experiences into manageable opportunities for mature lessons, then we have our own epiphanies of wisdom and joy.

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