Cambridge, June 2014


cheese plate from formaggio kitchen  (sonya kovacic)

cheese plate from formaggio kitchen (sonya kovacic)

Leave it to Massachusetts.

In 1801, the town of Cheshire in Berkshire County created the most memorable (and peculiar) cheese block in American history. The story goes:

When Thomas Jefferson was elected President, the town of Cheshire (and Baptist minister John Leland in particular) wanted to honor him and his victory for the Republican Party. Leland decided to offer the president a unique gift: a 1,230-pound cheese made with milk from every cow in town. When it was complete, the cheese was then inscribed with Jefferson's motto: "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God."

The cheese had to be transported over 500 miles to Washington, D.C., but it was too delicate to be carted on wheels. Consequently, it made the journey by sleigh, passing from town to town and gathering buzz as it moved along. Leland and the cheese successfully arrived in Washington later that year.

The cheese was officially presented to President Jefferson on January 1, 1802, and he graciously accepted. However, in accordance with his policy against gift-giving, the president paid Leland $200 (well over market price). Jefferson put it on prominent display at the White House and christened it the Mammoth Cheese (which, according to historians, is the first recorded instance of "mammoth" as an adjective).

The story of the cheese's disposal is unclear. It stayed in the White House until at least 1804, when it was described as "very far from being good". Some accounts mention the last of the cheese being served at a Presidential reception in 1805 – although other accounts claim that the last of the cheese was disposed of in the Potomac River.

For the cheese aficionado, Formaggio Kitchen offers classes on cheese, wine, beer, and general cooking. One class includes a tour of their cheese cave — or you can just start off with Cheese 101.