In 1802 the town of Cheshire, Massachusetts, renowned for the quality of its cheese, presented President Thomas Jefferson with a 1234-pound “mammoth cheese” incorporating milk from 900 cows and engraved with the Jeffersonian motto, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” The cheese apparently remained in the White House at least as late as March of 1804, at which point it was described as “very far from being good.”
In 1835 the dairymen of Oswego County, New York presented President Andrew Jackson with a 1400-pound block of cheese commissioned by Jackson’s supporters, who believed that “every honor which Jefferson had ever received should be paid him.” It was carried to the White House in a cart pulled by twenty-four horses, then deposited in the vestibule, where it aged for two years.
In 1837 Jackson announced that there would be, at his last major reception before leaving the White House, a cheese tasting and open house to which the general public would be invited. Thousands of people showed up, and the cheese was consumed within a couple of hours, although the odor lingered well into the administration and White House residency of Jackson’s successor James Van Buren, who was compelled to discard the stinky drapes, repaint the walls, and air out the carpets for several days. Not long thereafter, Van Buren received to his consternation a gift of his own 700-pound wheel of cheddar, most likely left behind by Jackson.
The Jackson cheese episode, in a somewhat garbled retelling, became the inspiration for a fictional event on the TV show West Wing. The White House Chief of Staff announces a “Big Block of Cheese Day,” during which the White House doors are opened freely to the public, who are allowed to present any question or concern, no matter how trivial or bizarre, and have it discussed by White House staff.
On January 29, 2014, inspired by Andrew Jackson’s spirit of openness and by the fictional “tradition” portrayed on television, the Obama Administration is sponsoring the first Virtual Big Block of Cheese Day. All day long White House officials will host a virtual open house on social media, answering random questions from the public in real-time on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and via Google+ Hangout.
See the White House Web site for the day’s schedule and information about how you can participate.
Article by Bobby Griffith.