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Culture’s Believe It or Not: People Cheese

Cheese innovators since time immemorial have pushed the limits of the curd, and some of their innovations are as bizarre as they are delicious. In Culture’s Believe It or Not, sit back, forget everything you know about cheese, and take a bite out of the weirdest wheels the world has to offer. Missed the last post on lichen cheese? Check it out!

We’ve all heard the phrase about “pouring yourself into your work,” but usually it’s in reference to the amount of time and love someone has put into something. I’m sure people say this about cheesemakers, and I’m sure they mean it in a figurative way, because otherwise we’re dealing with some serious health code violations. Nevertheless, some cheesemakers may not have understood it’s just an idiom and have started to incorporate a little more than their ideals into the cheeses they create. Yeah, we’re talkin’ people cheese—and they come in more forms than you’d think.

When you think of cheese made with human materials, there should be one kind of cheese that springs readily to mind unless you have a deep misunderstanding of the human body: breast milk cheese. Yes, somewhere along the line cheesemakers with dirty minds (or a real determination to find that perfect secret ingredient) had some watershed moments, and the human breast milk cheese was born.

Then it got popularized by Bobby Flay–beating chef Daniel Angerer who figured he might be able to save costs if he just got his cheese milk from his wife, not his herd, plus I’m assuming you haven’t been allowed to keep a bunch of cows in Manhattan since smallpox and witch-burning.

"You could say my cheesemaking process is pretty hands on."

“You could say my cheesemaking process is pretty hands on.”
Photo Credit: The Wall Street Journal

Yes, although there have been other ta-ta-to-table manufacturers, Angerer’s proposition turned heads in New York six years ago when when he began to serve mommy-inspired dishes at his upscale restaurant Klee Brasserie. According to the Daily Beast, he discovered his limitless supply of liquid gold “after tasting his wife’s milk from its natural vessel—‘I was breastfed myself so I have that taste for it’—[and] his mind went immediately to fromage.” So half the internet immediately dusted off their cannibal-skewering pitchforks and set out to see if his doorman would let them up, while the other half went “ooooooooo” like you do after you realize that little Lego people make great phone charger holders.

You are insanely welcome.

You are insanely welcome.
Photo Credit: Lifehacker

Unfortunately for Angerer, the New York Department of Health was in the former category and not only banned its sale but also its production and even the ability to have it on the premises. Ultimately the curd didn’t catch, either for the obvious and unavoidable fact that every time you eat it, you’ve just got a lot of really terrible images of female breasts and those milk machine things (maybe that’s just me), or because it has a “strangely soft, bouncy [texture], like panna cotta,” according to the Daily Beast. Klee is now closed, and I don’t really feel too terrible for Angerer because he literally fed his wife her own milk cheese without her knowledge: “I gave her a taste but I didn’t tell her what it was,” he told the Beast. “And she liked it.” There are a few other mentions of breast milk tastings and batches on the web, but the fad mostly seems to have gone the way of Klee.

Meanwhile, someone took the time to point out that to make breast cheese commercially viable you’d need quite a few women willing to be milked daily. Kind of likethat breast milk ice cream shop that just decided to milk the poor, because treating the lower classes as literal livestock isn’t weird or dystopian or anything. So the likelihood of Ta-Ta brand cheese hitting a store near you soon seems pretty slim. But if the concept’s tickled your fancy,here’s someone who seems to go around doing this for art installations, but warning—it’s definitely NSFW.

If you think we can only make cheese out of ourselves (toe-cheese excluded!), don’t buy any scratch tickets today because you’re very wrong. Sadly. Mainly because now we can say that toe-cheese is a real thing that you can actually pay for and eat.

Scientist Christina Agapakis and scent specialist Sissel Tolaas had a strange idea in 2013 and ran with it: What if we could make cheese out of semi-famous people? Wouldn’t that be great? I guess it would. They started out with regular raw milks, made some cheese, then get bacteria from, say, Michael Pollan’s toe gunk to grow on the rind, giving the wheel a… distinctive flavor.

The video above gives a pretty good rundown of how it’s made, and Pollan makes some interesting points, but I’ll just leave you with the fact that during one interview Appakis says that “the cheeses smell and taste like the body odors of the people the bacteria came from. That’s right. We’ve just escalated human cheese to human-body-odor cheese.” So if you’ve got a great smelling friend or loved one, a lot of extra cheesemaking equipment, and questionable priorities, start collecting their belly button lint and toe-nail clipping today for that most personal of cheeses!

Feature Photo Credit: Christina Agapakis/Sissel Tolaas via CNET

Brook O'Meara-Sayen

Brook O’Meara-Sayen is a journalism student at Emerson College forever on the hunt for that last ten minutes of sleep. In his spare time he enjoys reading, Merle Haggard, and spending Friday evenings trying to break his personal record for most cheddar eaten in one sitting.