If a time machine deposited you into a party in 1957 American suburbia, what might you see? Perhaps a lavish spread of sweet (and savory) gelatin delights, processed meats glistening beneath various gravies, a glowing mushroom cloud blossoming on a grainy TV screen in the background. Oh, and lots of dishes centered around cheese and pseudo-cheese.
The years between the end of World War II and the early 1970s were characterized by economic prosperity, a fascination with nuclear energy, and domestic innovations like set-it-and-forget-it appliances. Brought on in part by preservative fever, there were also bizarre experiments in food that saw ingredients with no clear mutual attraction (pineapple, bologna, and instant mashed potatoes, anyone?) bound together with Jell-O and sliced to serve. Today, images of these dishes resemble something out of Las Vegas’ OmegaMart (worth a Google and a visit) and inspire questions of exactly to what extent those radioactive waves permeated America’s kitchens.
But the building blocks of these technicolor dishes are worth a second look, albeit with some better cheese. We can get behind fondue! Maraschino cherries! Cocktail shrimp! …Oh, all together? Hm. Let’s revisit some of the more bonkers, cheese friendly selections while we ponder the repercussions of those bomb detonation parties.
1. ELTRIGAL 12-MONTH MANCHEGO
Pasteurized Sheep’s Milk
+ CHILI & SALT DRIED PINEAPPLE RINGS AND RITZ CRACKERS
1950s middle-class America loved a casserole. From a2021 perspective, it seems like there were no rules for making one: take anything canned, bake it with anything binding (likely also canned), and top it with something crunchy. Tow it: the very real Pineapple Cheddar Ritz Cracker Casserole. We suggest maturing the flavor combo by keeping the crackers intact, switching out the cheddar for an aged Manchego, and replacing the canned fruit with something a little more toothsome, like dusting dried pineapple rings with salt and chili powder. Oh, and staying away from the oven.
Pasteurized Sheep’s Milk
+ SHRIMP CHIPS AND COCKTAIL SAUCE
A relative newcomer to the Greek cheese scene, kefalograviera has nonetheless already earned a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. It’s nutty, salty, and firm, and can be enjoyed grilled, fried, or sliced as is. We recommend it paired with cocktail sauce (preferably one that includes horseradish) on a crispy shrimp chip. The best part of this seaside-inspired pairing? No leftover shrimp tails.
3. SARTORI BELLAVITANO RUM RUNNER
Pasteurized Cow’s Milk
+ GRILLED SPAM AND BONNE MAMAN CHERRY PRESERVES
Frankly, this pairing isn’t much of a leap from an authentic mid-century bite. Spam was a staple at 1950s cocktail parties, as were rum-based cocktails like the Mai Tai and Planter’s Punch garnished with fluorescent maraschino cherries (more on the tiki trend here). As a snackable party meat, Spam abides—serve it cooked and crispy with a dollop of cherry preserves, all atop a boozy cow’s milk slice infused with North Woods Distillery’s Heath Rum. Alternatively, broil a cruet of the cheese until it’s dippable.
4. POINT REYES ORIGINAL BLUE
Raw Cow’s Milk
+ GIN-MARINATED OLIVES
No mid-century schmooze fest would be complete without martinis: vodka or gin and dry vermouth with a cocktail onion, green olives, or a lemon twist. People practically fueled their cars with the stuff. To make this sixties staple a bit more sustaining, we recommend flipping the proportions and serving green olives marinated in gin and topped with blue cheese. Toss 12 ounces of olives with ½ cup of gin, the slivered peel of one lemon, 6 tablespoons of olive oil, and one minced clove of garlic; bake for 30 minutes in a baking dish; remove from the oven, sprinkle generously with blue cheese crumbles, and serve with toothpicks on the good Melmac plates.
5. SKI QUEEN GJETOST
Pasteurized Goat’s Milk
+ BEYOND MEATBALLS AND RYE BREAD
Scandinavia saw lots of love Stateside in the 1950s and ‘60s. Furniture, tableware, and snacks all got the Nordic treatment. Swedish meatballs simmering in a crockpot were a common sight at cocktail parties, meant to be plucked out via toothpick and munched while debating the merits of duck-and-cover drills. To ease the cholesterol load, swap the beef for a meat substitute and enjoy with a slice of nutty, sweet-ish Norwegian brown cheese on rye.