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Say 'cheese'

Japan is one country where the cheese-eating habit took centuries to become established, and even now there is almost zero presence of cheese in the cuisine

Friday, 26 January 2024, 18:19

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Although we tend to imagine that cheese is a common gastronomic denominator and is available in every country where there are cows and milk is drunk, it has not always been so.

There was a time when pre-settlement South Africans, to take one country's nationals as an example, had not only never tasted it, but had little idea of what it was or how it was made. The Boers imported the technique, but it took many decades for it to be widely accepted.

Japan is another country where the cheese-eating habit took centuries to become established, and even now there is almost zero presence of cheese in the cuisine.

After Japan's defeat in World War II the US care packages that were dropped by parachute contained the not-to-everyone's-taste Velveeta processed cheese. A popular Japanese soap had a similar name, so unsurprisingly the Japanese tried using it in the bath, and were confused when it produced no lather and made their skin smell unpleasant. As everyone knows, the Orientals have always held the opinion that Westerners have a disagreeable smell, so they assumed the explanation was that they washed with this 'soap'. Mystery solved.

When they eventually realised that it was edible, another problem presented itself: how to eat it? Bread does not feature in the Japanese diet, so the option of making a cheese sandwich was not a solution. History does not relate how the story ends, but in view of all the factors involved, the hundreds of tons of US processed cheese probably finished up on Japanese rubbish tips.

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