‘And so it came to pass on the second Tuesday after Donkeymass Eve, that Stan the Bloke left his cheese crackers on the shelf in his pantry.’
As religious texts go, this was not the most inspiring, transcendental or luminous opening. But since its rediscovery in the latter half of the eighteenth century by Josiah ‘Sanitation’ Herbaceous, the Book of Cheese became one of the most influential holy books in the world.
Of course it goes without saying that, even though the Book of Cheese has been dated back to the pre-classical period Middle-East like so any religious books, cheese worship goes back a long way beyond then.
Many archaeologists and historians of religion now believe that Stonehenge itself was built on the site of one of pre-history’s largest cheese shops and temples, where not only could worshippers bow down before the largest wheel of cheddar in pre-recorded times, they could also buy souvenirs of their pilgrimage to take back to their villages with them.
Some of the most ancient religious myths too also feature cheese in divine relationship with humanity. The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the very similar story of Noah from the bible, both originally talk of a great flood that wiped out all the cheese in civilisation. Some historians of the period now say that the story of the animals, two by two, in Noah’s ark originally only included the animals like cows, goats, sheep and other animals whose milk could be used for making cheese. It was only when Noah and his sons had produced enough cheese after landing on Mount Ararat could civilisation begin again.
Many religions speak of mana from heaven or other such divine foodstuffs. We now know of course that this mana actually meant cheese.
The original Tower of Babel story was not about the many languages people spoke and the mutual incomprehension, but of the attempt to reach heaven to get the recipe for that cheese mana. The collapse of the tower then led to the many different varieties of cheese the fallen human tribes made in an attempt to recreate that most holy of cheeses.
Hence, the awe people these days experience when they first taste Smoked Applewood.
Pure cheese worship slowly died out as civilisation spread around the world, with other less dairy-based religions slowly taking its place. Although, why cheese worship would die out to be replaced with mysterious unseen and unknowable gods has remained much of a mystery. Some say that the natural awe and wonder people experience with a good cheese was for some reason translated into a feeling for a divine that was always out of reach and unknowable. Perhaps because people in those much more impoverished times could only dream about having plenty of cheese. Therefore, the out of reach gods represented that need, that desire in a way which made the people more willing to tolerate the woeful lack of cheese in their impoverished lives.
However, we now live in a world of cheese aplenty, where cheese worship has taken its rightful place at the front and centre of the delicatessen counter. We can only speculate on what it must have been like to worship and desire cheese, when we have so many varieties to choose from.
And for that we should thank cheese.