Thursday, October 2, 2008

An overdue note about cheese

The last letter posted here mentions Aunt Agnes having a "wee cheese in the chesle." What's a chesle? I emailed Richard Foss, a local foodie friend who teaches culinary history. He didn't know himself, but he wrote off to a Scottish culinary historian, Cathy Jacobs, who kindly provided this answer:
"I thought I knew the definition, but to be sure I checked in my Scots dialect dictionary (compiled by Alexander Warrack). There are a number of terms, all with similar phonetic sounds, and all of which mean a tub for pressing cheese. These include chessart, chessirt, chessel, chessil, and cheswell."
Okay then, one mystery solved. While I was talking about this with Richard, I mentioned that Aunt's special treat was "swine curds," or cheese made from pig's milk. Now, it is very rare to find a strange food that Richard Foss (a) hasn't tried, and (b) doesn't want to try, but swine curds met those criteria easily. He sent back the following research on the subject:
The Hungarian health authorities have uncovered a conspiracy involving a shipment of salmonella-infected disznasajt (pork cheese) that was off-loaded to unwitting consumers in several towns in and around Pest county. According to, for Ft 5 million (รข‚¬20,000) and a promise he wouldn’t be fired from his job, one Zsigmond Zsolt R. agreed to take responsibility for the poisonous pork-by-product-product, which even when not infected with salmonella is known to cause nausea and other unpleasant symptoms among those who consume it.

...and another article about why pig cheese isn't more common, though it is apparently eaten in parts of Mexico:

From Dave Barbano: “Pig milk contains about 6.8 percent fat, 2.8 percent casein, 2.0 percent whey protein, 5.5 percent lactose, and 1.0 percent ash. Thus, from a composition point of view it is a fairly rich milk. However, since the pig is a nonruminant, the milk fat will be primarily long-chain fatty acids (probably a lot of C16:0). The short-chain fatty acids that provide the typical flavor to dairy products produced from ruminant milks (e.g. cow, goat, sheep, etc.) would not be present in pig milk. The fatty acid composition of the fat in the milk from pigs will be a function of the diet of the pig, just like it is for milk fat in human milk. Thus, I don’t think there is much of a future for pig milk cheese.”
Now we knew that Aunt Agnes was a talented and tireless cheesemaker, but she was also, apparently, skilled at making good edible cheese from pig's milk, a rarity indeed. Or maybe the Sanquhar folks just had very sturdy stomachs.

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