Edible Heirlooms: 117-Year-Old Cheese in Brooklyn

published Sep 17, 2010
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Some families pass down jewelry or packets of old letters. But what about edible heirlooms?

This week, The New Yorker tells the tale of a woman who inherited a 117-year-old piece of cheese — and still has it.

This ancient heirloom belongs to Claire Burson, a docent at the Tenement Museum. The cheese is an heirloom passed down from her great-grandfather, who received it as a going-away present when he left his native Lithuania.

For reasons lost to history, he never ate the cheese but kept it in a trunk that travelled with him while he worked as a trader among the Zulus, and then when he fought, on the Dutch side, in the Boer Wars. About 1904, the cheese travelled to Memphis, via Leeds, in England, and Galveston, in Texas.

Burson inherited the cheese after the death of her grandmother. During a trip to Lithuania a few years ago, she did a little sleuthing and found the modern-day version of her great-grandfather’s cheese, a fat-fermented, dollop-shaped cheese called Svalia. Her own ancient piece of Svalia has been sealed in a jar by the employees of the museum where she works. “‘I worry about it,’ she said.”

The story is a quirky slice of life and a reminder that food provides a powerful connection to place. We don’t personally own any edible heirlooms, but we can understand the urge to hold onto those foods that remind us of home.

Read the article: Say CheeseThe New Yorker

Does your family have any food heirlooms? Are there any foods you can imagine passing down or do you find the idea a little too strange?

(Image: Flickr member geishaboy500 licensed under Creative Commons)