curiosity and ragnar the cheesemaker

I have a morning routine, which rarely changes (because, you know, it’s in the morning and I’ve just awakened and and any activity that requires actual thought is probably beyond my capabilities). Greet the cat, check the perimeter (with the cat), feed the cat, ingest some form of caffeine, pet the damned cat, read the news, read more news, continue to pet and feed the fucking cat, consider reading email, decide against reading email, check Twitter, check Facebook.

By the time I reach the ‘read more news’ point, I’m moderately awake, properly caffeinated, and curiosity has kicked in. That generally results in me doing some level of research about what I’m reading. For example, this morning I saw something about ‘cult’ television shows. Not shows about cults; shows with cult audiences. No, wait…that sounds like the audience members are in a cult. Like everybody in the Order of the Solar Temple gathers around the television in the afternoon to watch Jeopardy. I’m talking about television shows that are obscure or generally unpopular with mainstream audiences, but still attract a devoted fan base. Somebody mentioned a British show called The Strange World of Gurney Slade. Which sounded weird and interesting, so I did some research and learned…well, that it was weird and interesting.

My point, if you can call it that, is that at some point in the morning, my need to read the news gets hijacked by my need to know and understand random stuff. This morning it was a few minutes of Gurney Slade. Then, on Twitter, I came across this simple question: Did Vikings make cheese? And my morning was gloriously ruined.

First, the question itself is wonderfully weird. You have to wonder what sparked the question. I assume it wasn’t just an idle thought; something caused this person to wonder if Vikings made cheese. Maybe they wanted to know what foods Vikings packed for a long voyage, maybe they were curious about Vikings and lactose intolerance–I don’t know. But it was an interesting question. But my immediate response was delight at the notion of a Viking cheesemaker. Some hirsute guy who, instead of setting off with the crew to raid the coast of Britain, decided, “Naw, I’m going to hang here and make a cheese.” Ragnar the Cheesemaker.

That led me to wonder how the process of making cheese was discovered, which eventually led me to read a sentence that not only took up much of my morning, but will likely haunt me for the rest of my life.

Cheese may have been discovered accidentally by the practice of storing milk in containers made from the stomachs of animals.

Okay, if you’re anything like me, you immediately started asking critically important questions. Who the fuck thought it was a good idea to store milk in the stomach of an animal? Who first said, “Dude, we got all this milk and we got no place to store it. Fetch me the stomach of an animal, please.” Who thought it was a good idea to store anything at all in the stomach of a dead animal? Who conceived of animal stomachs as prehistoric Tupperware containers? Somebody, while gutting an animal, must have had the idea, “Hey, let’s hang on to this stomach…we can clean it out and store stuff in it!”? Where would you keep the empty animal stomachs you plan to use later to store milk? And who, having left that first batch of milk in an animal stomach long enough for it to curdle and separate into curds and whey, thought, “Fuck it, I’m eating it anyway.”?

Medieval cheesemakers

My research also brought me to an article entitled Make Butter Viking Style, but I had to stop reading almost immediately, because of this:

Step One: Bring the crème fraîche up to room temperature and whisk it as if making whipped cream.

I am not convinced this is how Vikings made butter. I could go on (and believe me, I did), but you get my point. This has been my morning. Cat, Miami condo collapse, infrastructure agreement, some GOP bullshit about the military, cult television shows, Vikings, cheesemaking, animal stomachs, butter production. Every morning is like this for me. I’m completely fucking worthless from about 0700 to maybe 1000 hours, because of stuff like this.

And the worst thing about this? I have absolutely no use at all for what I’ve learned this morning. The odds of Gurney Slade or the history of cheesemaking (or, lawdy, the evolution of storage containers) ever coming up in conversation are astronomical. But this stuff will rattle around in my head for hours (or days or decades) and possibly spill out at some wildly inappropriate moment.

14 thoughts on “curiosity and ragnar the cheesemaker

      • Thanks – that decision gave me something to look into while I drink my caffeine instead of going straight to Jean Auel’s research on boiling water in a leather bag.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. I believe that early canteens/water containers were often made from sheep stomachs… Also, on an unrelated but semi-interesting side note, fistulated cows (where there has been an artificial opening made into the main chamber of a cow’s stomach- for research purposes) can watch for an unsuspecting human to come within range, take a deep breath, and blow their fistula plug and the contents of their stomach for at least 8 feet and cover the unsuspecting victim in green half digested cow stomach contents. Then they do a cow grunt-chuckle, swish their tail in satisfaction, and go back to chewing their cuds. Ask me how I know.

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    • That’s completely disgusting, but you really have to appreciate a cow who’s learned an alternate method to projectile vomit on its oppressor. I’m impressed (and still disgusted).

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  2. I’m still stuck on “Greet the cat” as part of the morning routine. I mean, yeah, I get it, the cat is always right there when one wakes up, usually just nagging its subject for food, but to actually “greet” it, as a separate itinerary item…. is it like, “Why, hello, esteemed feline. It’s lovely to see you on this fine morn”… ? Like that sort of thing?

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    • I’m confident I never referred to the cat as ‘esteemed feline’ but yes, I actually say good morning to the cat. It never occurred to me NOT to. I never thought it was odd…until you pointed it out.

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  3. This kind of distraction is my whole life. Even reading the question “Did Vikings make cheese” set me off on other possibilities: did the Ancient Egyptians make cheese? What kind of cheese? Is there a hieroglyphic for cheese?

    The best kind of knowledge is that for which you have no immediate use, but which makes the world a more interesting place.

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    • There’s an entire galaxy of rabbit holes concerning the ‘discovery’ of food items, and their evolution into cuisine.

      All this does, however, demonstrate the fatal flaw in Oscar Wilde’s comment, “It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information.” We are rolling in useless information now, but it’s a very sad thing that so few people can 1) tell the difference, and 2) enjoy it just for the sake of knowing.

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      • I am an inveterate ‘historical foodie’. I have, on numerous occasions, recreated ancient recipes just for the hell of it. But I’m with Oscar – I’m not at all sure that information of any kind is ‘useless’. It depends on the context. For example, I learned last night that Tupac Shakur was the son of the great revolutionary Black Panther leader Afeni Shakur. I mean, I’m sure that’s not news to a great many people, but the little factoid was extremely interesting to me. I have no idea what ‘use’ that information is to me, but I don’t want to conclude that it is _useless_.

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      • I’m not at all sure that information of any kind is ‘useless’.

        I’m confident that at least half of what I know is totally useless. But I’m okay with that. The pleasure and entertainment value of learning and knowing stuff far exceeds the utility of the information.

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    • I’ve not only looked up haggis, I’ve eaten it. I used to play darts at a bar in New Hampshire that served haggis on Burns Night. It’s actually better than it sounds.

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