“Poets have hitherto been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” – G.K. Chesterton
In 2005 the British Cheese Board organised a study involving 200 volunteers in an attempt to nail the old wives’ tale that eating cheese before sleep gives you nightmares. The results revealed a different story: more than three quarters of the participants, who ate 20 grams of cheese before going to bed, reported undisturbed sleep, although the majority of them were able to recall their dreams. More surprisingly, the different varieties of cheese seemed to produce different kinds of dream. Cheddar induced a higher proportion of dreams about celebrities; Red Leicester summoned childhood memories; Lancashire generated dreams about work; while Cheshire inspired no dreams at all. The overall conclusion was that cheese was a perfectly safe late-night snack which, because of its high levels of the serotonin-producing amino acid tryptophan, was far more likely to induce sleep and reduce stress.
More cheese, Gromit?
It may come as a shock to discover that the British cheese board now lists more than 700 varieties of British cheese – almost twice as many as our fromage-gobbling neighbours in France. However, they still consume twice as much per head as we do, and 55 per cent of the £1.8 billion British cheese market is attributed to sales of just one variety: cheddar. Also, British cheese “varieties” encompass such modern, marketing-driven abominations as Lancashire Christmas Pudding and Cheddar with Mint Choc Chips and Cherries.
The Scottish drink
In medieval Scotland the national drink was claret. This tradition began in 1295 when the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France was signed. This not only guaranteed the Scots French military support in repelling the English, it also allowed Scottish merchants the pick of Bordeaux’s finest wines. Even after the 1707 Act of Union, Jacobite toasts to the Scottish “King over the Water” were always made with claret. The first written evidence of whisky being produced in Scotland doesn’t occur until 1494. The other undeniably Scottish drink, Irn Bru, is so named for trading-standards reasons: it doesn’t contain iron and neither is it brewed.
Mary’s mouldy melons
Alexander Fleming (re-) discovered penicillin in 1928, but it wasn’t mass produced until the late Forties. The problem was cultivating a strain that grew quickly enough. The major breakthrough happened by accident in 1943 when Mary Hunt, a lab worker in Peoria, Illinois, brought in some mouldy cantaloups from the local market. They were infected with a “pretty, golden mould”, Penicillium chrysogenum, which yielded about twice as much penicillin as Fleming’s original. Another bacteriologist in Wisconsin, Dr Elizabeth McCoy (1903-78), discovered that by irradiating this mould, she could produce a mutant strain, X1612, which was a thousand times more productive and paved the way for the commercial production of all antibiotic drugs.
Chips as fish
French fries were invented in 17th-century Belgium as a substitute for, rather than accompaniment to, fish. When the rivers froze and fish couldn’t be caught, potatoes were cut into fishy shapes and fried instead. The Dutch call chips Vlaamse frieten (Flemish fries). The first recorded chip shop, Max et Fritz, was established in Antwerp in 1862. The Belgian’s often claim the term “French fry” came from British and US troops exposed to their national delicacy during the First World War, but the expression “French fried potatoes” had been in use in America long before the Great War.