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The Melancholy Tale of a 115-Year-Old Immigrant Cheese

"In 1895," writes Clare Burson, "my great-great-grandmother gave this wedge of cheese to my fourteen-year-old great-grandfather when he left his shtetl (little village) in Lithuania for South Africa so as to avoid conscription in the Tsar's army." Sounds like a Jonathan Safran Foer story but there's more and it's less twee.

This is, by the way, from Sarah Lohman, an artist and historical gastronome:

For some reason, my great grandfather, Charles, never ate the cheese, nor did he throw it away. He took it with him to Johannesburg, where he lived with his uncles for a time before striking out on his own, fighting in the Boer wars, and, with the defeat of the Dutch, moving yet another world away – to Memphis, TN, where he married and had four daughters.
Strangely still in possession of the cheese when he died, my great grandfather passed it down to my grandmother.

My parents discovered the cheese in the early 1970?s when my mom took on the project of refurbishing the trunk my great grandfather had shlepped from Lithuania to South Africa to Memphis. When she opened it for the first time, she found a desiccated wedge of something resembling a pumice stone, dusty, and wrapped in a disintegrating cheese cloth.

I guess my mom gave it back to my grandmother for safe keeping. My grandmother still has it, wrapped in aluminum foil in a paper envelope labeled: papa's cheese.

The cheese owner, Clare Burson, also happens to be a singer/songwriter on Rounder Records. Her latest album, "Silver & Ash," was inspired by the story of this cheese. With Ms. Lohman, she's throwing some sort of dinner/concert on June 10th at the Henry Street Settlement. If you're in NYC, you should go. Presumably cheese will be served.

Snapshot: This Cheese is 115 Years Old [Fourpoundsflour]

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