A 117-Year-Old Piece of Cheese


Clare Burson owns a piece of cheese that's 117 years old (pictured at left). It has survived wars, crossed continents, and now resides in her apartment in New York, sealed in a glass jar. Burson first learned of the cheese in 1999, when her grandmother produced it during a visit to the family's Tennessee home (at that stage it had been stored in tinfoil, inside an envelope -- for who knows how long). Burson continued to check up on the cheese on subsequent visits. In 2007, Burson traveled to Lithuania to learn more about the cheese's origin, and discovered that it "was a fat-fermented variety called Svalia, for the local river." According to a recent New Yorker article, fresh Svalia is good on sandwiches, with beer, and on crackers.

From the New Yorker article about the cheese:

The cheese was a going-away present for Burson’s paternal great-grandfather Charles Wainman (née Yehezkel), upon his emigration from Lithuania, around 1893, to Johannesburg. 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. Wainman opened a grocery store, and then, after the Great Depression, was a security guard. He died in 1944. The cheese was stored away until 1971, when Burson’s mother discovered it in the old trunk.

Read the rest for some more entertaining stories about this bit of cheese.

For a larger picture of the cheese, check out the Four Pounds Flour blog. (Note: in general, you should check out the Four Pounds Flour, as it's a great food blog.)