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Happy Big Block of Cheese Day

Fans of the television show The West Wing will know that today, October 20th, is "Big Block of Cheese Day", a fictional workday on which White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry encouraged his staff to meet with fringe special interest groups that normally would not get attention from the White House. Big Block of Cheese Day first appears in an episode called "The Crackpots and these Women" and also is mentioned in the subsequent eposode "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail."

The rationale for the day, as recounted by McGarry is that America's seventh president, Andrew Jackson, had a two-ton block of cheese in the White House foyer from which everyone was welcome to eat.

History records that the first "big block of cheese" was actually presented to Thomas Jefferson. The Cheshire Mammoth Cheese was a gift to Jefferson from the town of Cheshire, Massachusetts. It was presented to Jefferson on January 1, 1802 by John Leland. Leland said that he considered the cheese an act of "profound respect...to the popular ratification of his election." This incident is reported in the book Real Life at the White House by John Whitcomb.

In 1837, President Andrew Jackson's supporters commissioned a similar cheese for him. Jackson's "big block of cheese" weighed 1400 pounds. After two years of aging the cheese, Jackson held a public "cheese tasting". The event was heavily attended, and the cheese was consumed in two hours.


Besides inspiring this recurring theme for the West Wing, this event also inspired a critically acclaimed work of fiction, The Mammoth Cheese by Sheri Holman, written in 2004 and published by the Grove Press. It tells the story about a small town cheesemaker convinced by her pastor to make a giant cheese for the President-elect. The cheese also became the subject of a children's picture book published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, called A Big Cheese for the White House by Candace Fleming.

For real fanatics, shirts and other gear commemorating Big Block of Cheese Day is available here from Cafe Press. I'm wearing my Big Block of Cheese Day polo shirt right now!


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