American Cheese

By L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.
 At one time it may not have been entirely unfounded to prefer a rendition of something European over one American. Frequently though the partiality translated into having one’s nose well in the air when it fell to discussing American productions of food, art, music and even automobiles.  It was impossible to break free of the cachet of anything French, Italian, German or Swiss. I did however learn to cultivate a bias for American hardwood furniture from North Carolina (manufacturers such as Henredon, Thomasville, Maitland-Smith, Sligh and Wesley Allen). No doubt this was part of my burgeoning interest in home decoration. I broadened my education about furniture by researching the Canadian made products of Gibbard and by perusing what I saw in Country Life magazine from England.
Canada’s oldest furniture factory, The Gibbard Furniture Shops Limited, Napanee, Ont., was founded by John Gibbard, a cabinet maker who came to “The Napanee”, as the village was then known, in 1835 and shortly thereafter leased a mill on the canal that still runs through the Gibbard plant. He began the manufacture of sash, doors and furniture, coffins and many items, such as fanning mills, for the local farmers.
The Gibbard Company remained in control of the Gibbard family for four generations, until 1940, when the firm was purchased by Jack McPherson, who had been Sales Manager in the 1920’s. The Presidents since McPherson have been his widow, Mrs. Jack McPherson, David S. Roffey and Bruce R. McPherson, the current chief executive.
In 1964, the company launched its flagship Canadian Legacy line of mahogany and cherrywood furniture. It’s that line that has become recognized as one of the finest Canadian furniture lines, sold by retailers from Kingston to Madrid, Spain.
Seventy Canadian embassies and high commissions around the world are decorated with Gibbard furniture. Bobby Orr sleeps in a Gibbard bed. And even John A. Macdonald is rumoured to have written on a Gibbard desk.
In 2009, after 173 years, The Gibbard Furniture Shops Limited closed their doors.
As for automobiles – for which I was contemporaneously developing a curiosity – I circumscribed my interest to those dealers who were nearby.  The thought of interrupting my law practice to travel any distance for mechanical automotive assistance was offensive, just too inconvenient and time-costly. Because my practice was in the country it was normal that almost every dealership in the area marketed domestic models only. The growth of Japanese and German dealerships was only just beginning when I was young. That pragmatism did not however dilute my fondness of American cars.  To this day, after having owned about 20 new cars in my lifetime, every one of them has been an American make (though for the record exclusively GM and Ford). I continue to be inspired by American automotive craftsmanship.  It is with regret and some disdain that I remark upon the current popularity of knock-offs of BMW and Audi which I view as mere gloss on the Japanese race car toys which appeal to youngsters with their noisy engines and low profiles.  But I am equally willing to admit I’m an old fogey and that my preferences are different even though I haven’t changed over six decades – another small compliment I suppose!

Although I would never advance that I am terribly well-travelled, I did at least have the privilege of going to Europe several times – London, Paris, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Oslo, Neuchâtel, Costa Brava, St. Tropez, Sanremo, Rome, Montepulciano, Florence and Cagliari. I’ve motored across Canada from one coast to another; seen resorts in Mexico (Gulf and Pacific); visited many islands in the Caribbean; and been up and down the east coast of the United States of America (in addition to brief visits to San Francisco and Las Vegas). Tempering my wistful thoughts of travel is the sobering adage that “There ain’t no ship to take you away from yourself“.  Whether I am in my own digs in Almonte or sipping a martini overlooking a sea of church spires in Rome, I am inevitably reminded that it is all filtered through the same eyes and the same mind. Certainly the diversity of travel is a good thing; but acknowledging its limits at least dilutes the longing which so often mistakenly attaches to remote places. Further I admit I’ve always been somewhat sedentary; and as I grow older I find I am less inclined to endure the hardship of travel.

All this is by way of preamble to my thesis that dipping into Florida is a desirable capitulation.  As shallow as it may be, I like the idea of driving my own automobile – whether to get here or while here.  Plane and train travel leave me cold. And given the current state of Europe – especially those parts closest to North Africa – it is no longer the drawing card it once was.  Besides I like the idea of being able to control my own destiny within the North American continent, not to mention the persuasion of language, culture and medical matters.  No doubt all this sounds frightfully complacent and even narrow-minded; and I am quite willing to concede that it is.  For the blunt truth is that the extent of my maverick disposition is a road-trip to Key West to stay at the Waldorf-Astoria Casa Marina hotel.
In concert with this evolving smugness is a corresponding esteem for things American. For example I have always taken pride in the way I conducted business.  My object was an unqualified dedication to provision of a high-quality service and absolutely nothing ever diminished that objective. It was a matter of personal pride for me to provide the best that I could. In my experience the American model of business is by and large equally conscientious. I like doing business with Americans.

An odd feature of American society – and one which I am conscious of though I suspect few would be either willing or desirous to promote – is its class distinctions.  To pretend in this society of reputed equality that such distinctions do not exist is nothing short of preposterous.  My peculiar affection for class distinctions is that it is realistic; it recognizes things as they are.  It also implies that both duties and obligations exist on all sides.  It would be outlandish to ignore that some were born to advantage while others were not. It is within this matrix that people can build upon one another’s strengths, drawing upon what are inevitably their individual talents while not disregarding their differences.  The preservation of class distinctions is as historic as the Biblical observance (Matthew 26:11) that the poor will always be among us but it does not by extension remove the possibility of value and worth.  The context therefore is seemingly harsh but otherwise clear-sighted.
The quotation “All men are created equal” has been called an “immortal declaration,” and “perhaps [the] single phrase” of the American Revolutionary period with the greatest “continuing importance.” Thomas Jefferson first used the phrase in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which he penned in 1776 during the beginning of the American Revolution. It was thereafter quoted and incorporated into speeches by a wide array of substantial figures in American political and social life in the United States. The final form of the phrase was stylized by Benjamin Franklin.

The well-known moniker of the “Ugly American” is a condemnation which no doubt mostly derives from the envy of others. It has been said that the Germans enjoy the same vilification in Europe.  The abuse apparently derives from the tradition of brashness, loudness and carefree life-style of people who for whatever reason are either disposed to behave that way or who have the wherewithal to do so. Likely it is a combination of both penchant and means.  From my point of view – as someone eyeing the approaching end of the road – I rather favour the inclination to enjoy life to its fullest and to expend more energy expressing oneself than worrying what others may think. Don’t imagine that I suppose all Americans share this same manner of behaviour; after all I am here talking of la crème de la crème. But I find it an inescapable conclusion that the company of Americans is something I prefer.  It encourages robust camaraderie and an undeniable sense of bon vivant.
 Let’s get another thing straight. All cheese is processed. All of it. It is a man-made product that does not exist in nature. Even the simplest cheese, like halloumi, is made by treating milk (whether from a cow, a sheep, a goat, or even a human) with rennet (an enzyme typically taken from the stomach lining of an unweaned calf, or, increasingly, vegetable-based enzymes with similar properties), draining the resulting curds, and pressing them together. More complex cheeses go through further steps of processing. Mozzarella and queso Oaxacaare kneaded and stretched, for instance. Gruyère and Comté are washed with a bacteria-infested brine called morge.
 
And to all you cheese snobs out there, let’s cut a deal, okay? You stop telling me what fancy-pants cheese to put on top of my cheeseburger, and I won’t ask you to put American Singles on your cheese plate.