One of the world's first outsize cheeses officially weighed in at four tons in a fair at Toronto, Canada, seventy years ago. Another monstrous Cheddar tipped the scales at six tons in the New York State Fair at Syracuse in 1937.
Before this, a one-thousand-pounder was fetched all the way from New Zealand to London to star in the Wembley Exposition of 1924. But, compared to the outsize Syracusan, it looked like a Baby Gouda. As a matter of fact, neither England nor any of her great dairying colonies have gone in for mammoth jobs, except Canada, with that four-tonner shown at Toronto.
We should mention two historic king-size Chesters. You can find out all about them in Cheddar Gorge, edited by Sir John Squire. The first of them weighed 149 pounds, and was the largest made, up to the year 1825. It was proudly presented to H.R.H. the Duke of York. (Its heft almost tied the 147-pound Green County wheel of Wisconsin Swiss presented by the makers to President Coolidge in 1928 in appreciation of his raising the protective tariff against genuine Swiss to 50 percent.) While the cheese itself weighed a mite under 150, His Royal Highness, ruff, belly, knee breeches, doffed high hat and all, was a hundred-weight heavier, and thus almost dwarfed it.
It was almost a century later that the second record-breaking Chester weighed in, at only 200 pounds. Yet it won a Gold Medal and a Challenge Cup and was presented to the King, who graciously accepted it. This was more than Queen Victoria had done with a bridal gift cheese that tipped the scales at 1,100 pounds. It took a whole day's yield from 780 contented cows, and stood a foot and eight inches high, measuring nine feet, four inches around the middle. The assembled donors of the cheese were so proud of it that they asked royal permission to exhibit it on a round of country fairs. The Queen assented to this ambitious request, perhaps prompted by the exhibition-minded Albert. The publicity-seeking cheesemongers assured Her Majesty that the gift would be returned to her just as soon as it had been exhibited. But the Queen didn't want it back after it was show-worn. The donors began to quarrel among themselves about what to do with the remains, until finally it got into Chancery where so many lost causes end their days. The cheese was never heard of again.
While it is generally true that the bigger the cheese the better, (much the same as a magnum bottle of champagne is better than a pint), there is a limit to the obesity of a block, ball or brick of almost any kinds of cheese. When they pass a certain limit, they lack homogeneity and are not nearly so good as the smaller ones. Today a good magnum size for an exhibition Cheddar is 560 pounds; for a prize Provolone, 280 pounds; while a Swiss wheel of only 210 will draw crowds to any food-shop window.
Yet by and large it's the monsters that get into the Cheese Hall of Fame and come down to us in song and story. For example, that four-ton Toronto affair inspired a cheese poet, James McIntyre, who doubled as the local undertaker.
An ode to a one hundred percent American mammoth was inspired by "The Ultra-Democratic, Anti-Federalist Cheese of Cheshire." This was in the summer of 1801 when the patriotic people of Cheshire, Massachusetts, turned out en masse to concoct a mammoth cheese on the village green for presentation to their beloved President Jefferson. The unique demonstration occurred spontaneously in jubilant commemoration of the greatest political triumph of a new country in a new century—the victory of the Democrats over the Federalists. Its collective making was heralded in Boston's Mercury and New England Palladium, September 8, 1801:
This spirited achievement of early democracy is commemorated today by a sign set up at the ancient and honorable town of Cheshire, located between Pittsfield and North Adams, on Route 8.
Jefferson's speech of thanks to the democratic people of Cheshire rings out in history: "I look upon this cheese as a token of fidelity from the very heart of the people of this land to the great cause of equal rights to all men."
This popular presentation started a tradition. When Van Buren succeeded to the Presidency, he received a similar mammoth cheese in token of the high esteem in which he was held. A monstrous one, bigger than the Jeffersonian, was made by New Englanders to show their loyalty to President Jackson. For weeks this stood in state in the hall of the White House. At last the floor was a foot deep in the fragments remaining after the enthusiastic Democrats had eaten their fill.