On a Sunday evening, a group of students convened in the Caples Residence Hall lounge amid the glow of fluorescent lighting and the sound of French classical music. They had come together over an ancient passion — a passion older than history itself. The passion for cheese.
These dairy devotees are the founding members of the Kenyon Cheese Club — a new club dedicated to the appreciation of cheese. Ben Gross ’19, the club’s president, began his relationship with cheese at an early age.
Gross said that he has always loved cheese, so much so that his parents had difficulty keeping nice cheeses in the house for long, because they would disappear just as quickly as they were purchased.
The Kenyon Cheese Club met for the first — and so far only — time on Sunday, April 9. The cheese selections were diverse — the finest Kroger had to offer, including a brie, a jalapeño pepperjack, a cheddar and, Gross’s favorite, a smoked gouda.
The club’s main focus will be cheese discussion, which includes topics like cheese production and flavor profiling — that is, judging the distinct characteristics of a cheese’s flavor. One of the main determinants in a cheese’s flavor profile is how aged it is. The longer the cheese stays sealed in cheese wax, the “stinkier,” or more pungent, it becomes.
Currently, the organization is not officially recognized by the College, but Gross plans to change that in the near future, because the Business and Financial Committee funding would allow them to purchase a wider selection of cheeses. At the first meeting, Gross was forced to ask people to chip in money to recoup cheese expenses.
Not all of the members are as knowledgeable as Gross. Some, like Diego Fajardo ’19, came to the table with relatively little proficiency in cheese lore.
“There were some people who talked about specific cheeses they’d eaten in the south of France,” Fajardo said. “I’m like, ‘I like a piece of Parmesan every now and again.’”
Fajardo felt welcome in the cheese club, despite his lack of knowledge. He even started taking an interest in learning about others’ cheese tastes as well as his own; he left his comfort zone of milder cheddars when someone implored him to try a sharper one he really liked.
“The hope is that Cheese Club is a vector through which people will be exposed to cheese,” Gross said. “It’s not just about tastings, it’s about sharing knowledge with the school.”
Most of the discussion at the first meeting had to do with planning future cheese-related events. As Gross put it, there are a lot of important “cheese goings-on” in Ohio. For example, the group plans to take a trip to Grandpa’s Cheese Barn, a grocer in Ashland that carries a huge variety of cheeses from Ohio and around the world. Additionally, Gross plans to get in contact with local dairy farmers and seek out their cheese-related expertise.
Gross first got into organized cheese appreciation when he joined his high school’s cheese club. Aside from being able to purchase cheeses with high school funding, the Cheese Club also served as a social hub for adolescent cheese lovers.
“It really was an excuse to get people together and talk,” Gross said. “People don’t know but there really is a big cheese culture out there, pun intended.”
Fajardo feels the same way about the Cheese Club at Kenyon. While he does enjoy cheese, the main reason he joined was to spend time with other students. Thankfully, he said, the conversation did not focus on cheese for the entire meeting.
“Originally, I thought it could be fun, maybe I could meet new people and talk to them about their cheese tastes? I don’t know,” Fajardo said. “But it really was just a good way to talk to people while snacking at the same time.”
Not everyone agreed with Gross’s assessment of his high school’s cheese club. A lot of people thought it was pretentious, given the “snooty” culture that tends to surround events like wine and cheese tastings. However, Gross wants to make it clear that Cheese Club, and by extension, all cheeses, can be enjoyed by anybody.
“Cheese is for everyone! Everyone likes cheese. Well, I guess I can’t say that, because some people are lactose intolerant,” Gross said. “Still, though!”