The links between cheese, money, and civilization itself are ancient; the Romans exported and imported frightful piles of the stuff and lorded their knowledge of rennet (or coagulum) over the barbarians. Without rennet, you can’t make much-prized and extremely durable aged hard cheeses. (Soft cheese is a fleeting thing; hard cheese is an investment.)
Cheese’s money connection is also as contemporary as rap, a world where the word cheddar regularly stands in for cash. Nerdcore rapper MC Paul Barman neatly turned the metaphor on its head while describing his apartment in the filthy-but-entertaining “MTV Get Off the Air Part 2”: “Concetta, please. If you see any ‘chedda,’ it’s cheddar cheese.”
With that historic arc defined, a bit of news: The rapid rise of the ultrasafe and strong Swiss franc means that the price of Swiss cheese (Emmental or Emmentaler) is being driven through the roof. The result: The cheese is becoming impossible to export and is approaching economic inviability … and this and other similar currency interactions may mean that the very strength of the Swiss economy is beginning to work against itself.
Just across the border in Italy, the link between money and cheese may be stronger than in any other country in the world—hard cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano is actually used by banks as collateral for loans. A 2009 New York Times story lays out the reasoning:
“‘Parmesan cheese has been used for financial operations since the Middle Ages,’ said Leo Bertozzi, head of the Parmigiano-Reggiano Producers’ Association. ‘This is both due to its value, since each compact wheel holds the equivalent of 550 liters of milk, and the fact that aging takes years, making financing necessary until the product can be sold.'”
Next time you grate real Parmesan, give some respect: That’s powdered money that you’re putting on your pasta.