The science of fromage

By Phoebe Maltz

I have a dilemma. I’ve enjoyed my first year here so far, but I dread having to take science at some point before graduating. This is why I am proposing an independent-study science class of my own design, one that will allow me to fulfill both Core requirements and my deepest desires, many of which involve cheese. Not the rubber they have in the dining hall, but the sharp, runny, and obscure cheeses I currently have to make trips downtown to find. Here is my proposal:

The Science of Cheese: (Nat Sci 10021)

Fall Quarter — Research Component: The Science of Cheese will begin with a quarter-long introduction to cheese, during which I will read and take notes on the tags stuck in cheeses at gourmet shops around Chicago. I will record each cheese’s country of origin, price per pound, and any description offered by its tag. In addition, I will ask for samples of as many cheeses as I can before I am thrown out of the store. I will keep a record of how many cheeses each store permits me to taste, as well as of the size and quality of each sample.

Winter Quarter — Labs: I will assign myself daily labs, during which I will taste a variety of raw-milk goat cheeses and write up reports in which I compare and contrast said cheeses. I will use the scientific method during the tastings, by which I mean that I will not peek at the label before commenting on any given cheese. I will carefully work with different variables, by eating each cheese alone, on bread, and in an arugula salad. I will then add still more variables by drinking wine, mineral water, and then apricot nectar with both of the cheese combinations as well as with each cheese on its own. I will then put the data on each combination into a spreadsheet, which I will use to calculate the most successful context for each cheese.

Spring Quarter — Study Abroad: The Study Abroad portion of The Science of Cheese will take place during the final quarter of the sequence. I will first be flown to Paris. A car will pick me up and take me to the countryside, where I will get an intensive, hands-on, in-depth exposure to the country’s cheeses. This sort of exposure, as we all know, cannot be gained from a classroom setting. True scientific knowledge of cheese comes only from full immersion in the field. I will then be taken by rickshaw to Belgium, where I will study cheese and beer, and their often tumultuous history together in that country.

So there you have it. While The Science of Cheese may not become an instant hit with pre-meds, I believe that the intellectual inquiry and mathematical organization this course will require should allow it to fulfill my Core requirements in the sciences. I hope that those at this school who have power over such matters will see it the same way.