As a writer who hails from the great dairy state of Wisconsin, I am happy to be part of a blog that in some small way pays homage to cheese. Literary Labors and the Occasional Cheese Dip. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? We can thank John Kennedy Toole and the following quote from his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, for for the title: “When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.” When my blogmates and I chose it as our inspiration, we were excited to see a world of possibilities open up, as far as potential topics were concerned. The travails of writers and food – each of these on its own is interesting enough, but put them together and you’ve got the makings for some interesting ramblings. I’m looking forward to the tasty topics we’ll be cooking up here at Literary Labors and the Occasional Cheese Dip, even if cheese isn’t always involved.
For me, writing and cooking have always seemed to go hand in hand, no doubt because they’re the two art forms that best allow me to express myself and create. I find that I’m most productive when I write or when I cook. If you stop and think about it, writing and cooking are active skills, whereas their counterparts – reading and eating – are distinctly passive skills. Whether you cook or write, you’re producing something, but when you eat or read you’re consuming something. It’s an interesting concept. Which brings to mind another quote, one from C.S. Lewis, who said that “eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably.” It seems that there are tons of quotes about eating and reading out there, but when it comes to cheese, there really aren’t all that many. So, for my inaugural post, I want to explore some of the famous and not-so-famous quotes that involve cheese.
Sadly, there aren’t all that many quotes about cheese. They are few and far between. One of my all-time favorites, however, has to be Willie Nelson’s “The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.” So true, and very insightful. I also love the fact that Charles de Gaulle once lamented of his beloved France: “How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?” Then, there’s Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, another Frenchman (but of course, who else would come up with a quote about cheese?), who two centuries ago claimed that “Dessert without cheese is like a beauty with only one eye.” I wish he had been around to duke it out with Michele Gorman when she wrote in Single in the City that “The only way cheese is dessert is when it’s followed by the word cake.” Although the epicure in me tends to side with Jean, he wasn’t really a writer, and the same can be argued for Willie and Charlie. So, it makes me wonder what writerly types other than Gorman have to say about cheese.
Once again, the cheese quotes are rather sparse. But G.K. Chesterton, the English writer known as the Prince of Paradox, made a fascinating observation when he decried the fact that “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” Very good point. That’s probably why he went on to write “Sonnet to a Stilton Cheese” himself. Of course, my knowledge of poets and poetry has as many holes as a block of swiss, so let’s pretend I have a vast repertoire of memorized poems at my disposal. Try as hard as I might, I can’t think of or find a single well-known poem that brings up the topic of cheese. Which proves Chesterton’s point, I guess.
But still, what’s the deal? Why so few poems about cheddar and the like? I know of plenty of poets who write about food, so why are they forgetting the fontina? The Chilean genius Pablo Neruda, for example, devoted entire odes to sundry vegetables such as tomatoes, maize and onions. And other comestibles like lemons and large tuna and wine. Neruda was such a master at making the ordinary extraordinary that he penned an entire series in praise of everyday foods and items most people take for granted. Evidently, however, he didn’t get around to cheese. Maybe cheese was too ordinary.
It’s enough to make one wax philosophical. No wonder the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht mused in his play Mother Courage: “What happens to the hole when the cheese is gone?” I don’t know the answer to that, but I wonder what Jarod Kintz would say in response. This self-published phenom seems be a man after my own heart in that cheese appears to have provided him no small amount of inspiration in his own literary labors. Cheese makes a frequent appearance in many of his lines, but my personal favorite comes from 99 Cents for Some Nonsense: “I am the melted cheese of desire. Please, feel free to double dip. ” Somehow, this quote fits right in here at Literary Labors and the Occasional Cheese Dip. But all this talk of cheese has made me hungry, so it’s time to head to the refrigerator and see what I can scrounge up. Stay tuned and see what we have in store.