The Science and Celebration of Cheese

So, this past Wednesday was National Grilled Cheese Day. As a cheese fanatic myself, I was happy to celebrate. But the thing about cheese, even in the specific form of melting it between two pieces of bread, is that cannot be contained by a single day. In fact, April is National Grilled Cheese Month, too! Which means it would hardly be appropriate to let that slide without some celebration. So, this week, I’m pairing two items (like a good cheese and cracker, a good cheese and wine, or a good cheese and another good cheese) from the same time that give us some insight into this curdled, crumbly, creamy, sliced, shredded, or sometimes smelly staple.

First up, there’s Cheese and Ways to Serve It (1931):

We’ve actually featured other pages from this little booklet on the blog before–it was part of my first ever post on frosted sandwiches, that oddity that we can’t quite escape, it seems. But this post includes a few more versatile options for the wide range of Kraft-Phenix Cheese Corporation of Chicago. Nowadays, we know it as Kraft, Inc. or the Kraft Foods Group, but the core of the company has a long history of names. It started out as Kraft Cheese Company, but would subsequently be known as Kraft-Phenix Cheese Company, Kraft-Phenix Cheese Corporation, National Dairy Products Corporation, Kraft Cheese Company, the Kraft Foods Company, National Dairy Products Corporation/Kraft Foods Division, Kraftco Corporation/Kraft Foods Division, Kraft, inc., and finally Kraft Foods Group. (Thankfully, I put that history of name changes together a couple of years ago!)

I love this little pamphlet, which is all on small cards cooks could leave intact or tear out and add to a recipe box. It displays the versatility of cheese from appetizers to desserts to midnight snacks. As you can see, even in the 1930s, the company was producing a multitude of flavors and styles, making it a great food for kitchen exploration. 1931 was right about the time Velveeta came out and the booklet features a page long description that reads, in part: “This is Velveeta–Kraft-Phenix’ wonderful new cheese food. Velveeta is digestible as milk itself–and as wholesome. To fine Cheddar cheese are added valuable milk products–milk-sugar, calcium and phosphorus. Velveeta is far richer in these elements than is butter, cheese, or milk itself.” Also, while there were previous cheeses made in the United States that were called “American,” it was Kraft who was mainly responsible for popularizing the processed American Cheese we think of today in the 1910s, though it was being developed in the late 19th century.

Around the same time, Chr[istian] Hansen’s Laboratory, in operation since 1874, was working on its own cheese-related chemistry. (The company was also responsible for junket/rennet tablets, as well as food colorings and other cultures/starters.)

The Story of Cheese was published by the company in 1933. It includes several short essays on cheese productions at home and in the factory, using (of course!) their products: “The Manufacture of American Cheese on the Farm,” “Another Method for Making Cheese on the Farm and in the Home,” and “Cheesemaking on a Factory Basis.” Processed or factory made cheese wasn’t new in the 1930s, but at the same time, cheesemaking was something that was just as commonly done at home.  As an archivist, one of the things I love about this pamphlet is its list of books and bulletins (several of which are already in our collection) on cheese and cheesemaking, which seem to me to suggest a sort of respect for the process. Chr. Hansen’s Laboratory wasn’t trying to take cheesemaking away from farms and homes. Rather, it was getting a jump on the “better living through chemistry” motto that was still 30+ years in the future by developing things to continue to make this a process that could still be done in the home.

Like many things, local cheesemaking is cyclical. (Cheese itself, I believe is NEVER like to go out of fashion.) Making cheese became more and more (though never exclusively) mass-produced as the 20th century progressed, but we are once again seeing the pendulum swing. Farmers’ markets everywhere sell small batches of homemade cheeses and many people are taking up the challenge again in their own kitchens for a taste of that creamy, gooey, buttery-toasted grilled cheese experience at home. I celebrated on Wednesday with sharp cheddar and sauteed mushrooms on slices of Tuscan-style boule, but after writing this post, I’m thinking tonight might just call for another commemoration of one of my favorite foods. I believe I hear some provolone and Dijon mustard calling my name…

Food in the News: Terroir (#4)

Late last week, NPR’s blog, The Salt ran a story about wine and terroir. “Terroir” is one of those beverage buzzwords that you might or might not have heard and might or might not know. The article, “Demystifying Terroir: Maybe It’s the Microbes Making Magic in Your Wine” offers a good background on the word and the concept as it relates to wine.  The general idea is that grapes and a wine, as a result, are influenced by a number of environmental and soil factors from the slope of a hill, the angle of sunlight on the plants, the amount of rainfall, and more. The article looks more specifically that even the local fungi and microbes may have an effect on the taste of a wine, too. However, it isn’t just wine that is influenced by the oh-so-subtle-factors of plant-based alcohols–think about the soil beneath hops that contribute to a beer or the elevation of the land on which agave grows before it becomes part of a tequila.

The idea of “terroir,” though, doesn’t stop there. At the local cheese festival here in Blacksburg two weeks ago, there was a talk/tasting on wine and cheese pairings. (And, since I’m often to be found where there’s one of those ingredients, you can bet I was there for both!) It certainly wasn’t surprising that the word came up, but it was fascinating to hear how much one of the experts had to say about the terroir of cheese and how much the locality in which it was produced can effect the food itself. While there’s an argument for consistency in a food product (whatever it is), there’s an argument for individuality, local influence, and terroir of a food, too. Just something to consider next time you’re in the farmers’ market, the co-op, or at a local farm.

A Monday Morning Recipe (#4)

It’s National Cheese Fondue Day! (Seriously, there’s a food holiday for a lot of things that might surprise you…) As a result, it only seems fair to share a few fondue recipes. These come courtesy of the Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library from 1971. There’s actually a whole section of cards on fondue, about 1/3 of which are cheese-related. Here are a couple of highlights:
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There’s Something about Dairy!

This week, I had it in mind to find something Halloween related. Then I realized, with a busy day today and tomorrow, hunting for Halloween recipes wasn’t on my menu. We haven’t talked about dairy in quite some time, though, and that seemed as good a topic as any. The even better news is that I happened on a “Halloween Pie” recipe in the book I selected. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is not look for what you want with the History of Food and Drink Collection. Sometimes what you’re looking for finds you.

Last year, during Women’s History Month (March), I talked a little bit about Ruth Berolzheimer and the Culinary Arts Institute. One of the books mentioned in that post is our feature item this week. What I expected was a 30-50 page soft cover pamphlet, like many other publications in the series from the Culinary Arts Institute. What I got was 256 pages and 750 recipes related to dairy! (I think we’ll get our daily dose of Vitamin D in this post!)

The Dairy Cook Book, 1941. Front cover.
The Dairy Cook Book, 1941. Front cover.
The Dairy Cook Book, 1941. Table of contents.
The Dairy Cook Book, 1941. Table of contents.
The Dairy Cook Book, 1941. Pictures include Cauliflower with Cheese Sauce (above)--which also looks a bit Halloween-eqsue--and Potatoes in Savory Sauce (below).
The Dairy Cook Book, 1941. Pictures include Cauliflower with Cheese Sauce (above) (which also looks a bit Halloween-eqsue, if you’re looking for a brain-like item on your menu!) and Potatoes in Savory Sauce (below).
The Dairy Cook Book, 1941. Pictures include Chicory Crown Salad (top), Frozen Cheese Salad (middle), and Cottage Cheese Ring (bottom). There are a LOT of frozen salads in this section of the book!
The Dairy Cook Book, 1941. Pictures include Chicory Crown Salad (top), Frozen Cheese Salad (middle), and Cottage Cheese Ring (bottom). There are a LOT of frozen salads in this section of the book!
The Dairy Cook Book, 1941. Pictures include Bombes (above) and Sour Cream Chocolate Cake (below).
The Dairy Cook Book, 1941. Pictures include Bombes (above) and Sour Cream Chocolate Cake (below).
The Dairy Cook Book, 1941. Pictures include Chocolate Malted Milk (above) and Banana Milk Shake (below). Also, note the recipe for Halloween Pie, which sadly, isn't pictured anywhere.
The Dairy Cook Book, 1941. Pictures include Chocolate Malted Milk (above) and Banana Milk Shake (below). Also, note the recipe for Halloween Pie, which sadly, isn’t pictured anywhere.

This is a cookbook that’s organized around meal components, not meals themselves. So, if you’re looking for breakfast ideas, for example, you aren’t out of luck. They are in the book, if you know where to go: breads and entrees, specifically. Go into those sections and you’ll find more doughnuts, muffins, and egg dishes than you can manage, but this is really a book that’s focused on the sweet stuff. One look at the table of contents above makes that fairly clear: puddings, cakes AND refrigerator cakes, frozen desserts, pies, cookies, frostings and fillings, and more than half of the sauces and beverages. We might even make a case for a fair number of the salads being desserts! On the flip side, if you’re looking for cheese-based appetizers, this is also the book for you. It’s chock full of cheese balls and snack foods stuff with or rolled in cheese. Seriously, it’s enough to whey anyone down! (Yes, I had to get at least one cheese pun in this week.)

On a last (unintended) note, this book contains a recipe for an old friend of ours that I found while flipping through the pages (serendipity at work!). It’s called “Individual Salad Sandwich Loaves,” but as you may know, a recipe title can be deceiving. There’s no picture, but  when you see a list of ingredients that includes minced meat and eggs, unsliced bread, butter, mayonnaise, cream, cream cheese, a few herbs/spices, and garnishes like watercress and olives, a mid-20th century recipe aficionado’s brain can make the leap before even reaching the end of directions which read “[c]ut loaf into 2-inch slices and cover each with cream cheese.” Call it what you will, but a frosted sandwich is a frosted sandwich, any day of the week. (The previous posts on this topic can be found here and here and here and here–yes there are FOUR! As for future posts, well, you’ll have to wait and see.)

The Dairy Cook Book (1941) isn’t out of copyright, so you won’t find it online, as is the case with most of the Culinary Arts Institute publications, which come from the same era. However, they do seem to overlap a bit, so if you have one (the one on snacks, or one of the dessert pamphlets, for example), you may have seen some of the recipes before. As always, you’re welcome to visit us in search of your next dairy recipe–or any other recipe, of course. You won’t find everything on our shelves, but as I like to point out to researchers, you might find something you didn’t know you were looking for, and it can take you in a whole new direction. I think this rings true for research, but for cooking, too. After all, recipes are just a guideline, right? 😉

Jell-O Pamphlets, c.1931

Here we are, eight weeks into 2015 and we have yet to talk about gelatin. That’s a problem I can solve. 🙂

This week, we’ve got some strange and intriguing recipes from two Jell-o pamphlets published in 1931. One has “thrifty” in the title, suggesting it may include some of the more basic (and down-to-earth?) recipes, Thrifty Jell-O Recipes to Brighten Your Menus. The other, The Greater Jell-O Recipe Book, is “greater” in the sense that is has more pages and more recipes. More…creative, shall we call them…recipes. “Greater” is a subjective word and open to interpretation in this context, and I’ll leave it up to you, dear foodies. However, the latter publication does focus more on dishes you might use in entertaining, rather than those you might put on a family dinner menu.

Lime Jell-O came out the year before in 1930, so there are a number of recipes utilizing this new flavor (“Cheese Cube Relish,” “Grapefruit Salad,” and “Creamy Lime Flakes,” for example). There are also plenty of recipes that appear in both booklets and are what we might consider “classics” today. This includes things like “Under the Sea Salad” and various fruit-flavored “fluffs” and jellied strawberries.

I very nearly posted some frozen gelatin recipes, but thought better of it. It’s cold enough here that we don’t need to think about that. Of course, if you’re in many parts of the country this week, you can simply put your Jell-O outside and make your own frozen creations, sweet or savory. Stay warm out there, and we’ll meet you back here next week!

From Root to Table: Raw Foods in the Early 20th Century

This week, we’re featuring Uncooked Foods & How to Use Them: A Treatise on How to Get the Highest Form of Animal Energy from Food: With Recipes for Preparation, Healthful Combinations and Menus by Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Christian. This particular volume is a recent addition to Special Collections. Published in 1904, it’s actually the 5th edition, so this husband and wife team seemed to be on a roll…

Eugene Christian was the more prolific of the pair, authoring a variety of books on food, diet, nutrition, and health in general between 1900-1930. His wife co-authored a several books with him, however. Uncooked Foods & How to Use Them features a little bit of everything: directions on how and what to eat, how to prepare foods (very little!), sample recipes, sample meal plans, and some about why the idea of eating raw foods was important to the authors. For Special Collections, this piece is a great new addition. While we have a number of volumes on vegetarianism in the 19th and 20th centuries, this is the first book we have on raw foods and the raw foods movement. (Now, we’ll be on the lookout for more!)

You’ll notice that there are a few cooked/prepared foods in the book, though they seem to be carefully chosen and few and far between. The section on soup, for example, is prefaced by the statement that: “We give here a few recipes for soups only because the soup habit is so firmly fixed in the mind of the housewife and the epicure that they can hardly conceive of a decent dinner without them. All soups may be warmed sufficiently to serve hot without cooking.” All but one of the few meat or fish dishes are smoked or dried. The others are all raw, including a beef tartare recipe.

So whether you’re hankering for egg-nog with fruit juice, raw carrot and turnips with (or without) salad dressing, or prune pie, this book could be for you. You’ll just have to come by and see. Until then, happy eating!

A Smorgabord of Culinary Pamphlets

The core of our History of Food & Drink Collection is books, no doubt about it. But we’re working hard to add a variety of materials. In the last three years, we’ve acquired half a dozen handwritten recipe books from around the country, as well as personal compiled recipe collections, advertising and promotional materials, and papers of people working in food and nutrition. The increasing pile of pamphlets, whether advertisements, recipe booklets, “how-tos” for appliance, or a combination of all three, led to the creation of the Culinary Pamphlet Collection, Ms2011-002, in early 2011. Since then, we’ve added nearly 300 pamphlets to the collection. This week’s feature post is a sampling of the latest batch of materials, which just arrived last week!

We have 16 new acquisitions from a recent purchase, with topics including flavor extracts and condiments, canned juice and fish,  advice for feeding children and infants, and kitchenware. There’s a range of technicolor and black and white images which make some of the finished dishes a little less appealing, but it’s not all bad. It’s hard to go wrong with 9 variations of macaroons! (Although the fruit cake made with tomato juice might give you pause…)

The “Food and Fun” from Star-Kist Tuna was a particularly neat discovery. In addition to a variety of tuna recipes and household hints (not necessarily tuna related hints, either!), it contains suggested party games for adults and children–optical illusions, word puzzles, and number games. We also have a pamphlet for a new (to us) gelatine company: Gumpert’s Gelatine Dessert! And there’s the “A Mother’s Manual” from Ralston Purina Company, which includes growth charts for children, meal plans, and nutrition information on a range of products. Yes, before they started in the pet food business in the late 1950s, they made breakfast cereals.

The full finding aid for this collection, with a list of companies and pamphlets, is available online through Virginia Heritage. The newest materials haven’t been added just yet, but they’re on their way. And there should be lots more to come! This collection contains an amazing variety of little gems and it’s bound to surprise you.