Monday, August 8, 2022

Something About Spellbinding Cheese

Eat your heart out, Cheesemen of Doom.

Several talismans and tomes are sprinkled throughout the Bellairs books, but I recently read about something that would make for a cheesy Barnavelt or Dixon adventure.

Cheese.  Since there is much cheese from Wisconsin, where Anthony Monday has already visited, it makes sense for the story to involve him.  (I'm trying Monday fans.)  Why?  Beth Daley wrote a piece (not of cheese) at the Conversation recently on the spellbinding history of cheese.  It's full of whey cool tidbits:
It's not entirely clear why cheese is seen to have magical properties.  It might be to do with the fact it's made from milk, a powerful substance in itself, with the ability to give life and strength to the young.  It might also be because the process by which cheese is made is a little bit magical.  The 12th-century mystic, Hildegard von Bingen, compared cheese making to the miracle of life in the way that it forms curds (or solid matter) from something insubstantial.

Cheese magic stretches back long before Hildegard and the medieval period.  The 2nd-century diviner, Artemidorus, mentions "tyromancy" – cheese divination – as a method of discovering the future in his treatise Oneirocritica. Ironically, given our later association of cheese with vivid dreams, Artemidorus claims that cheese fortune-telling is among the most unreliable.

Even if you're not a thief, you should be wary around cheese when there's a witch in the room.  In The Odyssey, the sorceress Circe turns Odysseus' companions into animals by feeding them a magic potion mixed into a drink made of cheese, barley meal, honey and wine.  The fourth century Christian theologian, St Augustine of Hippo, agreed that such things might be possible, though unlikely.
Or maybe it's a Lewis Barnavelt story.  The characters visit a thinly-veiled Pinconning, Michigan, and learn about a rouge cheesemaker - sort of a spin on Bagwell Glomus and his cereal company - and his version of something based on pinconning cheese, a semi-hard cow's milk style cheese named after the town, as explained by the Cheese Professor:
In 1915 resident Dan Horn, who had recently arrived from Wisconsin, thought of a special recipe for Colby cheese he had developed years earlier. Named for a city in Wisconsin, Colby is made in a process similar to Cheddar, but the curds are cold water washed, which halts the acidification and leads to a sweeter cheese that has an open structure with small holes. It is also aged for a shorter period of time than Cheddar. This new cheese developed a more intense flavor as it aged and did not need to be stored at temperatures as low as regular Colby. A cheese that could be aged in cellars and at higher temperatures, would prove proved to be a huge advantage in an era before refrigeration. Soon he constructed a cheese factory and sold it along with other foods at his small shop, Horn's Grocery Market. Pinconning Cheese, as it came to be known, quickly emerged as a big hit.
Pinconning was later chosen as the Cheese Capital of Michigan based on the cheese.

Throw in a snake-headed gorgan-zola and you have an interesting story any way you slice it.

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