The Magic & Mystery of Cheese


Hello everyone, and welcome to LukeLore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest. We have reached a very important milestone here for the show, numbered episode 50! So now with this achievement, we need a very special topic. Something close to my heart… Cheese. Bear with me, as I’m not joking and actually do have some interesting things to say about cheese! I’m a pretty big cheese fiend, and speaking of cheese related fiends the wider Ghost Story Guys lore does include mentions of Steve the Cheese Demon. Now I think on, we need more fan art of Steve the Cheese Demon, if anyone wants to rise to the challenge as part of celebrating LukeLore episode 50. On with the show! SECTION BREAK – Why even is cheese? Okay, then. Let’s cover the basics. There’s something worrying about a lot of food we take for granted, so basically all food. If you stop to think about it, it’s kind of gross. The culture you grow up in seems normal to you, because you don’t know any better. Take a step back? Things start to get freaky. Stuff like Black Pudding, escargot, or Haggis was not meant to be overthought, it was meant to be made as cheaply as possible from whatever nominally digestible bits hungry people had lying about the place. New Worlder’s, you don’t get let off the hook for this one. Biscuits and gravy, or at least what you heathens call “biscuits and gravy”, are an abomination and you still eat sausages. You think anyone came up with sausages because life was going good for them? Sausages are what happen when all the tongues and trotters have already been eaten off the pig corpses. Yet we don’t overthink it, and we’ve gotten good at making weird stuff taste good. Which definitely brings us back around to cheese. Cheese is undeniably delicious. I LOVE cheese. I’m making an important landmark of my personal body of work as a folklorist and creator in general all about cheese. That doesn’t change the fact that cheese is the breastmilk of some random domesticated mammal, that has then gone mouldy. Cheese is what happens when cow juice has been overrun by bacteria. It’s still delicious! You’ll take my cheese from my cold dead hands, likely after a cheese related fatality, but how we got from milking lactating goats to a global cheese industry is weird even by the usual low bar of humanity’s standards. First up, we’re not supposed to be able to digest milk. Not out of infancy, anyway. Yet globally homo sapiens has decided on multiple distinct occasions to decide to adapt to having milk anyway. Faced with one of two options: learn how to eat grass, or keep livestock that can turn that grass into a creamy beverage, humanity let the appendix become useless and went with milkshakes. To be able to digest lactose at all is a mutant superpower. Babies make an enzyme called lactase that’s supposed to switch off age 5 or so, and on multiple unrelated occasions over the past 10 to 12 thousand years communities of humans have just gone “nah, I like milk” before just kind of ignoring typical mammal development.

So, hairless anxiety prone monkey requires the cow juice, and is stubborn enough to override nature on this one. It makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint as there’s a lot of nutrition in milk, and raising livestock good for this purpose is relatively simple. Yet from this actually quite natural world shaking development humans probably did just to be contrary more than it making sense, we then go a step further and decide to find tasty ways to curdle this particular crime against mother earth. Tracing the genetics of this, it seems likely that Northern Africa and Eastern Europe are some of the earliest examples of hominids to blame for the Adult Milk Thing. There is some compelling speculation that an early development in cheese comes from the Middle East though, as there’s some simple conditions that would lead to milk curdling. First up, it’s warm in the Middle East, to put it lightly. This is going to lead to milk rapidly evolving strange new life once it has left the chosen animal of origin whether you like it or not. There would then be the perfect time and place for an animal’s stomach being used to carry a drink over distance. Not just one you found lying about the place like, but it would be a simple bit of recycling waterproof animal bits in the time before plastics or even decent metal canteens. The conditions of which mean you have milk curdling in a sealed environment that has contact with leftover digestive enzymes. That way lies curds… What you then have, though, is a suspiciously lumpy drink. Generally a sign to start over, not a eureka moment for a new food source. But humans as a species seem hardwired to try anything at least once. Sometimes only exactly once, with onlookers being the ones to learn from terminal mistakes. Yet whether through morbid curiosity or simple desperation someone somewhen gave curds a go at some point, to discover the fine line between gastronomic distress and tasty cheese. The rest is history, and in most places around the world a brick of cheddar is an easily accessible food source. Hopefully I haven’t put anyone off this wonder foodstuff by forcing you to think about it too much. Cheese really is great! Not just tasty but it’s a source of calcium, fat, and protein, as well as a nifty assortment of vitamins and minerals. The development of cheese likely went a long way to keeping humans not-starved and able to develop as a civilisation. You can even get involved if you’re a lactose intolerant non-mutant, something like a mature cheddar cultivation has used up all the lactose to become extra strong in flavour and crumbly. Moving on though, I do have some fun cheese facts beyond “it’s kind of gross, but I’ll be eating it anyway”. SECTION BREAK – Too much of a good thing before bed Ever been told not to eat too much cheese before bedtime, or it’ll give you nightmares? Well, apparently this actually can be a thing. I say this not from cold science (although the short version of the boring version goes that since it’s hard to digest, it can disturb your sleep and leave you in a Rapid Eye Movement cycle for longer), but because people want cheese to do this and keep giving it a go! Part of this is almost certainly psychosomatic. You can be primed to having strange dreams if a family member obsessed with the truism keeps yelling it at you, or there’s a bit of a self hypnosis ritual going on if you actively want to cause weird dreams via cheese. On top of these broad strokes, though, is a frankly brilliant tradition from Victorian times. Victorian horror writers would eat Welsh Rarebit before bed, hoping to cause bizarre nightmares they could then turn into stories. Welsh Rarebit being a posh cheese on toast, often made by cooking cheddar with beer. There are even turn of the 20th century strange fiction anthologies made by authors pushing each over to have the most outrageous cheese related nightmares possible to use as inspiration! The appropriately named ‘Welsh Rarebit Tales’, collected by Harle Oren Cummins, is available for free online. I haven’t gotten around to it yet, only recently having been made aware of its existence (much to my delight I must say), here’s the Preface of the book: “A PREFACE is the place where an author usually apologizes to the public for what he is about to inflict. Such being the case, I hasten to state that I am only jointly responsible for this aggregation of tales, which resemble, more than anything else, the creations of a disordered brain.


The origin of the Welsh Rarebit Tales was as follows: A certain literary club, of which I am a member, is accustomed to hold semi-occasional meetings at some of the uptown hotels. At the close of the dinner each of the fifteen members is permitted to read to the others what he considers his most acute spasm since the previous meeting. The good and bad points of the manuscript are then discussed, and we believe that much mutual benefit is thereby derived.


Having run short of first-class plots, the club at a recent meeting decided to try a gastro-literary experiment. Knowing the effect upon the digestive and cerebral organs of indulging in[vi] concentrated food before retiring, we each and every one partook, just before adjourning, of the following combination:—


1 Large Portion Welsh Rarebit, 1 Broiled Live Lobster, 2 Pieces Home Made Mince Pie, 1 Portion Cucumber Salad.


At the second meeting of the club (the next meeting, by the way, had to be postponed on account of illness of fourteen of the members) the accompanying tales were related.

Partly as a warning to injudicious diners, we decided to publish the result of our experiment, hoping that all who read this book, and see the nightmares which were produced, will be warned never to try a similar feat (or eat).


By unanimous sentence of the other fourteen members, and as a punishment for having been the originator of the scheme, mine was chosen as the unlucky name under which the Tales should appear.” While it can be read for free online, I am almost certainly going to go out of my way to track down a physical copy of this book! So, can too much cheese before bedtime give you nightmares? Yes! For a variety of reasons, and hilarity has historically ensued as a part of this gastronomic phenomenon. SECTION BREAK – The God of Cheese While there’s solid speculation about the Middle East being a perfect place of origin for early cheeses, multiple cultures manage to find their way to the discovery of cheese cultures, and sometimes a deity gets the credit. Heading over to Greece, originator of the most excellent Feta cheese, we have the god Aristaeus. Aristaeus’s name derives from “aristos”, which roughly means either “most excellent” or “most useful”. As a god, he was originally a mortal whose deeds had him rise to godhood. There may well be a historical figure who can be attributed with some, or even all, of the feats Aristaeus is known for. Mythology is a little tricky as far as strict historical accuracy goes though. But whether one brilliant individual, an amalgam of multiple geniuses, or else the anthropomorphisation of incremental ingenuity Aristaeus is the god of shepherding, cheesemaking, beekeeping, honey, honey-mead, olive growing, oil milling, medicinal herbs, hunting as it pertains to butchering, and the Etesian winds that cool Greece during the hottest parts of Summer. So, a surprisingly big deal for a mortal, and whichever way they made it to godhood they have quite the resume. They’re even referred to sometimes as “the first farmer”. There’s not really much in the way of solid details on what a historical Aristaeus may have done. The myths surrounding the name blur the lines pretty hard, he both got raised to godhood for his mortal achievements yet also brought back knowledge he was taught after being raised to a minor deity (“minor deity” here seeming more to be a divine hierarchy thing as opposed to him not doing much). Aristaeus begins as a demigod in some stories due to being the son of Apollo, after the god was impressed by his soon to be mother Cyrene upon watching her beat up a mountain lion. Cyrene’s place in mythology being that of a woman who hated traditional women’s roles, and was likely to end up punching a lion to death on her travels. Aristaeus went about a life of famous toils from innovating agriculture up to saving a city from a plague, that in turn caught the attention of the god Hermes. Hermes took Aristaeus to his grandmother Gaia, who gifted him with immortality. Being free of mortality making him a god, Aristaeus got to cavort with nymphs. Actually deserving to be a god, this did not go as crude a way as many other stories of nymphs do and they instead showed him wondrous otherworldy techniques such as making divine mead and refined cheese. Being the amazing man of the people that got him raised up to godhood in the first place, Aristaeus then returned to mortals with these techniques. He gave people the gifts of mead, olives, and cheese making that have resulted in some pretty damn awesome Greek cuisine. The next time you get told about a cheese dish being divine, it may be literal! Check if there’s Feta involved. SECTION BREAK – A Cheese based fairy tale Let’s gear up into full on story time, as this is a milestone episode after all. This is a translation of a Dutch folktale called ‘The Boy Who Wanted More Cheese’. “Klaas Van Bommel was a Dutch boy, twelve years old, who lived where cows were plentiful. He was over five feet high, weighed a hundred pounds, and had rosy cheeks. His appetite was always good and his mother declared his stomach had no bottom. His hair was of a color half-way between a carrot and a sweet potato. It was as thick as reeds in a swamp and was cut level, from under one ear to another.


Klaas stood in a pair of timber shoes, that made an awful rattle when he ran fast to catch a rabbit, or scuffed slowly along to school over the brick road of his village. In summer Klaas was dressed in a rough, blue linen blouse. In winter he wore woollen breeches as wide as coffee bags. They were called bell trousers, and in shape were like a couple of cow-bells turned upwards. These were buttoned on to a thick warm jacket. Until he was five years old, Klaas was dressed like his sisters. Then, on his birthday, he had boy's clothes, with two pockets in them, of which he was proud enough.


Klaas was a farmer's boy. He had rye bread and fresh milk for breakfast. At dinner time, beside cheese and bread, he was given a plate heaped with boiled potatoes. Into these he first plunged a fork and then dipped each round, white ball into a bowl of hot melted butter. Very quickly then did potato and butter disappear "down the red lane." At supper, he had bread and skim milk, left after the cream had been taken off, with a saucer, to make butter. Twice a week the children enjoyed a bowl of bonnyclabber or curds, with a little brown sugar sprinkled on the top. But at every meal there was cheese, usually in thin slices, which the boy thought not thick enough. When Klaas went to bed he usually fell asleep as soon as his shock of yellow hair touched the pillow. In summer time he slept till the birds began to sing, at dawn. In winter, when the bed felt warm and Jack Frost was lively, he often heard the cows talking, in their way, before he jumped out of his bag of straw, which served for a mattress. The Van Bommels were not rich, but everything was shining clean.


There was always plenty to eat at the Van Bommels' house. Stacks of rye bread, a yard long and thicker than a man's arm, stood on end in the corner of the cool, stone-lined basement. The loaves of dough were put in the oven once a week. Baking time was a great event at the Van Bommels' and no men-folks were allowed in the kitchen on that day, unless they were called in to help. As for the milk-pails and pans, filled or emptied, scrubbed or set in the sun every day to dry, and the cheeses, piled up in the pantry, they seemed sometimes enough to feed a small army.


But Klaas always wanted more cheese. In other ways, he was a good boy, obedient at home, always ready to work on the cow-farm, and diligent in school. But at the table he never had enough. Sometimes his father laughed and asked him if he had a well, or a cave, under his jacket.


Klaas had three younger sisters, Trintjé, Anneké and Saartjé; which is Dutch for Kate, Annie and Sallie. These, their fond mother, who loved them dearly, called her "orange blossoms"; but when at dinner, Klaas would keep on, dipping his potatoes into the hot butter, while others were all through, his mother would laugh and call him her Buttercup. But always Klaas wanted more cheese. When unusually greedy, she twitted him as a boy "worse than Butter-and-Eggs"; that is, as troublesome as the yellow and white plant, called toad-flax, is to the farmer—very pretty, but nothing but a weed.

One summer's evening, after a good scolding, which he deserved well, Klaas moped and, almost crying, went to bed in bad humor. He had teased each one of his sisters to give him her bit of cheese, and this, added to his own slice, made his stomach feel as heavy as lead.


Klaas's bed was up in the garret. When the house was first built, one of the red tiles of the roof had been taken out and another one, made of glass, was put in its place. In the morning, this gave the boy light to put on his clothes. At night, in fair weather, it supplied air to his room.


A gentle breeze was blowing from the pine woods on the sandy slope, not far away. So Klaas climbed up on the stool to sniff the sweet piny odors. He thought he saw lights dancing under the tree. One beam seemed to approach his roof hole, and coming nearer played round the chimney. Then it passed to and fro in front of him. It seemed to whisper in his ear, as it moved by. It looked very much as if a hundred fire-flies had united their cold light into one lamp. Then Klaas thought that the strange beams bore the shape of a lovely girl, but he only laughed at himself at the idea. Pretty soon, however, he thought the whisper became a voice. Again, he laughed so heartily, that he forgot his moping and the scolding his mother had given him. In fact, his eyes twinkled with delight, when the voice gave this invitation:

"There's plenty of cheese. Come with us."


To make sure of it, the sleepy boy now rubbed his eyes and cocked his ears. Again, the light-bearer spoke to him: "Come."


Could it be? He had heard old people tell of the ladies of the wood, that whispered and warned travellers. In fact, he himself had often seen the "fairies' ring" in the pine woods. To this, the flame-lady was inviting him.


Again and again the moving, cold light circled round the red tile roof, which the moon, then rising and peeping over the chimneys, seemed to turn into silver plates. As the disc rose higher in the sky, he could hardly see the moving light, that had looked like a lady; but the voice, no longer a whisper, as at first, was now even plainer:

"There's plenty of cheese. Come with us."


"I'll see what it is, anyhow," said Klaas, as he drew on his thick woolen stockings and prepared to go down-stairs and out, without waking a soul. At the door he stepped into his wooden shoes. Just then the cat purred and rubbed up against his shins. He jumped, for he was scared; but looking down, for a moment, he saw the two balls of yellow fire in her head and knew what they were. Then he sped to the pine woods and towards the fairy ring.


What an odd sight! At first Klaas thought it was a circle of big fire-flies. Then he saw clearly that there were dozens of pretty creatures, hardly as large as dolls, but as lively as crickets. They were as full of light, as if lamps had wings. Hand in hand, they flitted and danced around the ring of grass, as if this was fun.


Hardly had Klaas got over his first surprise, than of a sudden he felt himself surrounded by the fairies. Some of the strongest among them had left the main party in the circle and come to him. He felt himself pulled by their dainty fingers. One of them, the loveliest of all, whispered in his ear:


"Come, you must dance with us."


Then a dozen of the pretty creatures murmured in chorus:


"Plenty of cheese here. Plenty of cheese here. Come, come!"


Upon this, the heels of Klaas seemed as light as a feather. In a moment, with both hands clasped in those of the fairies, he was dancing in high glee. It was as much fun as if he were at the kermiss, with a row of boys and girls, hand in hand, swinging along the streets, as Dutch maids and youth do, during kermiss week.


Klaas had not time to look hard at the fairies, for he was too full of the fun. He danced and danced, all night and until the sky in the east began to turn, first gray and then rosy. Then he tumbled down, tired out, and fell asleep. His head lay on the inner curve of the fairy ring, with his feet in the centre.


Klaas felt very happy, for he had no sense of being tired, and he did not know he was asleep. He thought his fairy partners, who had danced with him, were now waiting on him to bring him cheeses. With a golden knife, they sliced them off and fed him out of their own hands. How good it tasted! He thought now he could, and would, eat all the cheese he had longed for all his life. There was no mother to scold him, or daddy to shake his finger at him. How delightful!


But by and by, he wanted to stop eating and rest a while. His jaws were tired. His stomach seemed to be loaded with cannon-balls. He gasped for breath.


But the fairies would not let him stop, for Dutch fairies never get tired. Flying out of the sky—from the north, south, east and west—they came, bringing cheeses. These they dropped down around him, until the piles of the round masses threatened first to enclose him as with a wall, and then to overtop him. There were the red balls from Edam, the pink and yellow spheres from Gouda, and the gray loaf-shaped ones from Leyden. Down through the vista of sand, in the pine woods, he looked, and oh, horrors! There were the tallest and strongest of the fairies rolling along the huge, round, flat cheeses from Friesland! Any one of these was as big as a cart wheel, and would feed a regiment. The fairies trundled the heavy discs along, as if they were playing with hoops. They shouted hilariously, as, with a pine stick, they beat them forward like boys at play. Farm cheese, factory cheese, Alkmaar cheese, and, to crown all, cheese from Limburg—which Klaas never could bear, because of its strong odor. Soon the cakes and balls were heaped so high around him that the boy, as he looked up, felt like a frog in a well. He groaned when he thought the high cheese walls were tottering to fall on him. Then he screamed, but the fairies thought he was making music. They, not being human, do not know how a boy feels.


At last, with a thick slice in one hand and a big hunk in the other, he could eat no more cheese; though the fairies, led by their queen, standing on one side, or hovering over his head, still urged him to take more.


At this moment, while afraid that he would burst, Klaas saw the pile of cheeses, as big as a house, topple over. The heavy mass fell inwards upon him. With a scream of terror, he thought himself crushed as flat as a Friesland cheese.


But he wasn't! Waking up and rubbing his eyes, he saw the red sun rising on the sand-dunes. Birds were singing and the cocks were crowing all around him, in chorus, as if saluting him. Just then also the village clock chimed out the hour. He felt his clothes. They were wet with dew. He sat up to look around. There were no fairies, but in his mouth was a bunch of grass which he had been chewing lustily.


Klaas never would tell the story of his night with the fairies, nor has he yet settled the question whether they left him because the cheese-house of his dream had fallen, or because daylight had come.” Look, I’m going to be real with you all. I 100% would fall for a cheese based fairy trap. This is a pretty simple morality tale about the dangers of overindulging, but I would definitely fall afoul of the Sidhe with the enticement “There’s plenty of cheese”… SECTION BREAK See, I told you I had some great cheese material! I have no idea how I’m going to top this for episode 100, but let’s worry about getting there before we have to worry about what to do about it. That’s all for now though, if cheese pops back up again it’ll probably be a segment and not an entire themed episode. Although rule nothing out… Least of all how much I love cheese! LukeLore is a Ghost Story Guys production. If you do want to contact me there’s the show’s dedicated email lukeloregsg@gmail.com, and the general show email ghoststoryguys@gmail.com.


Absolutely get some new Steve the Cheese Demon art heading our way if you’re up to the challenge! Both myself and the main show are really easy to find on Facebook and Twitter if you want to make day to day contact, as well as a very active Instagram account a lot of the community gets involved with. The LukeLore Instagram is now up and running for your more folklore focused content needs.


If you want to support the show directly check out our Patreon at Patreon.com/ghoststoryguys. We do have LukeLore merchandise available at the Ghost Story Guys online store, feel very free to show off any you get online!


As ever though, the absolute best thing anyone can do to support the show is to give it a listen. Share this around if you think you may know someone who may be interested, leave a review if you get the chance to help signal boost me, and most of all I simply hope you enjoy what I’m doing here.


Here’s to another 50 episodes ahead of us! Goodbye for now.