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Cheese Chat! - What's In A Name?    
Wednesday, February 20 2008 @ 05:59 PM GMT+4
Contributed by: CheeseSnobWendy

FoodWelcome back to Cheese Chat.

Thanks to everyone who commented on the last one, about The Port Wine Cheese Ball. You're a real live bunch, Cheese Warriors.

This episode takes us into the field of etymology - one of my favorites, being such a nerd.

Here's the question:


Oof, I just dragged over my Webster's Unabridged for some assistance. I don't have a copy of the OED, but any generous person is welcome to buy me one. My apartment isn't that big so I'll take the compact version with reading glass, or the CD-ROM, but please not the "Shorter Version." Why bother?

But I digress.

Let's see... on page 309, under the definition of "cheese," the word is attributed to me. ME?!

Wow, that's cool.

No, wait, it's "ME." and that actually means Middle English, when cheese was known as "chese." And that was from Anglo-Saxon; those folks called cheese "cese" or "cysa."

Because we know the Anglo-Saxons learned their cheesemaking from the invading Romans (which is why English cheeses more closely resemble Italian cheeses than they do French cheeses, even though France is just a chunnel-ride away), we can also gather they learned the word for "cheese" from the Romans, hence the Late Latin name for cheese, "casius."

And that brings us back to the original Latin. The old Romans called cheese "caseus."

Now the Romans didn't invent cheese. History and archaeology tells us it was first created in the Near East - most likely in Babylon in about 2500 BCE. I do not have any indication of what the Babylonians called cheese, but I do know in Urdu, "chiz" is the word for "thing." And cheese is a mighty thing.

So now that you know the Latin for cheese, you can see how it evolved into other languages:

queso - Spanish
queijo - Portuguese
cacio - Italian (parts)
cáis - Celtic
caws - Welsh
Käse - German
kaas - Dutch
cheese - English

OK then. But how then did the French get fromage and other parts of Italy get formaggio?

Well, when the Romans started aging cheeses to send with the Legionnaires, they called these hard cheeses "caseus formatus" or "formaticum."

Alright! So here we are with the following:

fromage - French
formaggio - Italian

But then there's those Basques, whose language seems to have no connection with any other in the known universe, and their words for cheese are "gazta" and "gasna." Go figure!

In addition to the Webster's Unabridged, I also used "Cheeses Of The World" by Bernard Nantet, Wikipedia's page on Cheese, and www.buber.net to help me write this post.

**I dedicate this and every Cheese Chat to the memory of two people who I miss very much: Judy Gorman, a woman who was highly influential to my development as a gourmand; and My Cheese Mentor, Henry "The Cheeseman" Tewksbury.**


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  • Cheese Chat! - What's In A Name? | 2 comments | Create New Account
    The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they may say.
    Authored by: Lise on Thursday, February 21 2008 @ 05:52 PM GMT+4
    I love etymology -- it's almost like deciphering a secret code. While it's true that all words start somewhere, it's always interesting to know how they started and evolved...

    From the sounds of things, the early tribes of Europe had a bit of trouble getting their tongues around Latin....

    Authored by: cgrotke on Thursday, February 21 2008 @ 06:17 PM GMT+4
    Their mouths were full... with cheeses.