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To Know a Good Cheese

Good cheese has six qualities: Non Argus, nec Helena, nec Maria Magdalena, sed Lazarus et Martinus, resondens pontifici.

Not white as snow, like fair Helen,
Nor moist, like tearful Magdalen,
Not like Argus, full of eyes,
But heavy, like a bull of prize.
Well resisting thumb pressed in,
And let it have a scaly skin.
Eyeless and tearless, in colour not white.
Scaly, resisting and weighing not light.

(from The Goodman of Paris/Le Ménagier de Paris. trans. Eileen Power. London: Routledge & Sons, 1928.)
If you're interested in the translation, I have the middle French lying around too (c. 1393).

I don't think the Goodman was very fond of Swiss or soft goat's cheese. Ah well. His loss. Anyways, I doubt there was too much of a cheese export market in late fourteenth century France. Refridgeration units were somewhat lacking.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 12th, 2004 04:43 pm (UTC)
Not moist.... Considering what's prized in many French cheeses now, that's somewhat surprising. Refrigeration, as well as other technological changes, might have really changed what was prized or valorized in foods, huh.

I wonder if the cheese in France was still famous, though. It might be a bit early for leisure tourism, which might have popularized and elevated regional specialities, but there was some religious travel, no? And you could always export chefs and other experts in regional specialities....

(Given the Japanese obsession with local bests, I've been a bit curious about such things in the world, particularly the pre-modern. You can see something of it, or at least something similar, even in the tax codes for classical Japan. Sometimes a province no longer produced enough of what it had been "known for" in the tax codes, and had to trade with neighboring provinces to gather the requirements together. Iron, I'm fairly sure, was like that by the Heian Period, but....)

Oh, and I'm always interested in the Middle French. Haven't cut all ties with my Indo-European historical linguistics past. ;)
Jul. 13th, 2004 12:13 pm (UTC)
It looks like the Goodman was after a cheese that would store well and for a long time - good for long-distance trade, although not necessarily what his in particular would have been used for.

From a book review: http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ahr/105.3/br_131.html

"David Jacoby brings great erudition to illuminate the profitability of the medieval cheese trade on Crete. Here Venetian feudatories advanced cash to local peasants for the future delivery of hard cheese at a low price, ensuring a large profit for the middlemen and a ready supply of cheese for shipment to and sale in Venice."

Some things on the medieval Scottish cheese trade here: http://www.ebs.hw.ac.uk/SDA/cheese1.html

"A charter from St. Andrews records the income of Culdee monks who lived at the priory of St. Serphs on Loch Leven. These monks had an annual grant of cheese which was measured in 'cudruns' of cheese. "

""the export of cheese was in fact forbidden by James VI in 1573; in 1661, Charles II required 2 oz of bullion to be brought to the mint for each 5 cwt of cheese exported. Under the reigns of William and Anne, the import or use of Irish, English or foreign butter was forbidden. The quantity of cheese paid as part of secular rents was such a regular feature, that the word 'kain',a payment in kind for rent, came to mean a certain quantity of cheese, about 60 cwt in Argyllshire, Dunbartonshire and Galloway, and the dairyman who paid his rent in cheese was a 'kainer'. Since butter, and especially cheese, are easily portable, they were particularly useful for trade. The twelfth century Assisa de Tollonies laid down tolls of a halfpenny for a load of butter or cheese on horseback, and a farthing for a load on a man's back. From Caithness, quantities of butter made up in the shape of globes were carried in open boats to Moray, up to 1800, and the "pastry of the baker's shops at Elgin and Forres were then enriched with their importation". At the same period Moray was also buying cheese from Banffshire, and the cheese was being imported by grocers from Cheshire and Gloucestershire. Supplies, therefore, were carried over very long distances to areas where dairy farming was not developed and possibly places like the cheese warehouse adjacent to Gray's Close in Edinburgh, marked on a plan dated 1790, were staging posts in this trade between England and the north of Scotland"."
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