Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Thomas Jefferson and the Giant Cheese,

Hungry folk take knives to the giant Jefferson cheese.

In the summer of 1801, Elder John Leland of the Baptist church at Cheshire, Massachusetts convinced his congregation to make a giant cheese in honor of the current president, Thomas Jefferson.  It must have been an odd experience, a pastor at the pulpit preaching that an abnormally large roll of cheese should be made for the president in honor of his republicanism and defense of religious liberty.  But the people of Cheshire dutifully made the cheese, utilizing the milk of 900 cows and forming it with a 6 foot diameter cider press.  When finished, the cheese measured 4’ 4.5’’ in diameter and was 1’ 3’’ thick, weighing in at 1,230 pounds.  In November the cheese was shipped 500 miles to Washington, first down the Hudson River, then down the Atlantic coast to Baltimore, then by wagon to Washington.  
The giant cheese was presented to Jefferson on New Year’s Day, 1802, and was engraved with the motto, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God”.  Since Jefferson had a policy of not receiving gifts while in office, he paid $200 for the massive cheese.  Critics in the Federalist party criticized Jefferson for the large cheese, with one writer describing it as a “mammoth” cheese, the first time in history the word mammoth was ever used as an adjective.  
Over the next three years it was served and slowly consumed at various White House dinners and official conventions.  It was last served at a presidential reception in 1805, afterwards the remainder was dumped in the Potomac River, as the cheese had gone bad.