The Wife of Bath… and Cheese?!

If you ask any of my friends to write down the main words they would use to describe me, the one that will probably keep popping up is- you guessed it- Cheese-Lover. I suppose then that it’s sort of inevitable that I would, sometime in the (near) future, find myself writing about Chaucer…and cheese. It’s an an unusual combination, but the world is full of surprises- like this one! 🙂

If you, like me, think this is quite a mad idea, you might, like I was, be surprised to hear that there are actually many books about medieval cheese. Funnily enough, I did not even know that medieval cheese was ever a thing until very recently. While I was out at one of the fantastic farmer’s markets in London, though, I came across the strangest thing- cheese called the Wyfe of Bath Cheese (above). At the time, I’d laughed at it’s funny name, eaten it (cheese lover) and walked away, but the idea of Wife of Bath cheese stayed with me- I started to wonder, would the Wife of Bath, had she actually existed, have had access to cheese? Did it even exist at that time? The answer is- yes! To all those cheese lovers out there hoping to time travel to Chaucer’s time someday in the future, but are worried about not having access to cheese, don’t worry- cheese actually existed thousands of years ago! So, time-travel away! 🙂

What kind of cheeses, you might be wondering, even existed at that time? Would they have been unrecognisable to the cheese we know today? Scott (1986) in Cheesemaking Practice, gives us some ideas, by showing us the long history of some cheeses. Examples of some invented before Chaucer even started The Canterbury Tales include Goronzola (first recorded date: 897), Schabzieger (1000), Roquefort (1070) and Grana (1200). Luckily for all us cheese enthusiasts, they all still exist today! So here’s a perfect reason to try/eat (for research purposes, of course) all those cheeses 🙂

So what else has been written about medieval cheese? Below, I’ve included a little excerpt of some amazing books about cheese that I would definitely recommend checking out…

bte

What is probably most funny about this is the fact that I’ve managed to include Anne Boleyn’s name in the same article as Chaucer (see above). Normally, my articles on The Tudors, and the sources I use for them, are separate to the ones about Chaucer, and the Wife of Bath, but I suppose this is just another one of life’s surprises 🙂

For something that can often have a very rich and buttery texture and taste, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise to discover that cheese has an equally rich history. Though we might never know the true story about how cheese was invented, perhaps we should look on this little mystery as another one of the many intrigues of cheese. I think it would be good for me to end on what may be the wisest words of The Pardoner (from the Canterbury Tales):

“I will have money, wool, and cheese,

and wheat”


Further Reading:

Check out…

I really enjoyed reading Jim Chevallier’s article on the history of cheese. This is one I would definitely recommend, and you can find it at: http://leslefts.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/old-regime-cheese-1-lost-cheeses-of.html. Want to learn more about the origin of cheese? Try this.

Virginia Hyde has written a really fun and enjoyable article on medieval cheese that I would also recommend; you can find it at: http://culturecheesemag.com/cheese-bites/medieval-cheese-back-good-graces 

Barbara Wells Sarudy has written a really fantastic article that, if you’ve got the opportunity, you just have to read. Using manuscripts to illustrate the history of cheese, this is an article you cannot miss. Even Walters Art Museum has mentioned it (https://twitter.com/walters_museum/status/477911223648804864/photo/1). Find it at: http://bjws.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/illuminated-manuscripts-brief-history.html

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2 comments

  1. I’m a cheese lover too, so this post was perfect for me. Cheddar all the way!

    Like

    1. Hi Dann, I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed this post! I really love Cheddar too, I even used it for my Easter Cheese Hunt 😀

      Like

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