Limburger on Your Lathe

Lapham Quarterly has a piece about the 'dark, evil-smelling sprite' of Limburger cheese:

In very explicit way,” says Tia Keenan, a chef-fromagere in Manhattan, “Limburger was something humble and stinky and strange that came from Europe.”

Originally from Liege, Belgium, Limburger accompanied mid-nineteenth century Germans and Belgians immigrating en masse to America for its rapidly modernizing, expanding economy. For them, it was a nostalgic, cheap saloon food. They liked it in a sandwich, with pumpernickel, spicy mustard, raw onion, and cold beer—a collection of sharp tastes. The jokes met Limburger at Ellis Island. Vaudeville comedians called it the “cheese you can find in the dark.” By the 1880s, the malaprop-laden dialect of German, Dutch, and Yiddish comedians like Weber and Fields, and later the young Groucho Marx, was dubbed “Limburger English,” whether they told cheese jokes or not. Limburger symbolized low class, “funny” immigrants….

It was as if a dark, evil-smelling sprite had escaped the Black Forest of Germany and wafted its way to the New World. In 1884, a troubled woman in upstate New York tried to burn down her family’s Limburger cheese plant. In 1885, police arrested Mrs. Teresa Ludwig in downtown New York, for attempting suicide while intoxicated by leaping off Pier 1 on the North River. An Irish woman, Mrs. Ludwig complained that she had married a German who ate Limburger in their apartment and then made amorous advances while it was still on his breath. April 1895, a strike broke out at a Newark butter plant when a Swedish prankster smeared Limburger on his coworkers’ lathe, arousing anti-Swedish slurs, a fistfight, and a walkout of Swedish workers until the American apologized. 1909, Denver chemist Philip Shuch, Jr., grief-stricken over his mother’s death from cancer, swore that he would find a cure. His quest led him to the leper colonies of Venezuela, where he struck on a new idea—that the bacteria found in Limburger could act as a cure for leprosy. Shuch advocated smearing a mixture of pulped Swiss cheese, bacteria-ridden Limburger, glycerine, and quicklime on diseased skin.

I, for one, quite like Limburger, which is available in any grocery store here. It's a little fragrant, sure, but nothing compared with Pont L'Eveque, if you ask me.

Dealer for a Day

 'The regally-named Wells Tower goes to Amsterdam to learn how to sell dope in a legal coffeehouse. It's a weirdly-regulated industry, so sellers have to be quite careful. Here's his summary of the legal situation:

Marijuana and establishments that sell it remain illegal in Holland, but the industry operates more or less in plain sight through a statutory gray area known as gedoogbeleid, roughly "tolerance." The tolerance policy protects smokers possessing five grams or less but cuts local government plenty of prosecutorial slack to harry shop owners at the first shift of Holland's culture wars. The national statutes are sufficiently loose and leaky that almost forty years after the first coffee shop opened its doors, the center-right Christian Democratic Appeal—until recently Holland's ruling party—has pledged to shutter every hash bar on Dutch soil. And while coffee shops operate at the pleasure of city government, not national parties like the CDA, Holland's dope outlets have undergone a substantial die-off of late. In 1997, at least 1,019 coffee shops were doing business in the Netherlands. But after a quiet epidemic of denied shop-license renewals and selective enforcement of gedoogbeleid's caprices, today's number is closer to 700. Rotterdam alone closed a third of its shops in 2008. These are anxious times in the dope trade, which is why, through voluntary measures like today's clinic, shop owners are doing all they can to stay on the good side of the law.

So here in the dunce row, determined to be the most upstanding dope dealer I can possibly be, I'm jotting notes at a stenographic rate. The lecturer is just now getting into the most crucial leg of his spiel, the five unbending commandments of pot commerce: Coffee shops are forbidden to advertise, to sell to persons under 18, to cause a public nuisance, to sell hard drugs, or to maintain an inventory of more than 500 grams (about 17.6 ounces). Breaking any of these could result in fines, closure, or a prison term.

Tower then tastes some of the really good stuff:

Harry sees fit to break out this monster sack of extremely good Dutch Isolator, the kind of hash that costs you sixty euros per gram in the shop. Under a microscope, a THC crystal looks like the end of a car antenna: a stalk with a terminal ball. By passing the resin (in a suspension of chilled water) through successively smaller screens, Harry explains, the manufacturers of Isolator hash strain out just the balls, the purest part of the crystal. He tips a bit of brown powder onto a portable scale (to ensure that he doesn't share too much of the costly goods) and loads and lights a glass pipe. "Full melt!" he cries. "Full fuckin' dome!" (Translation: "You can tell this is great stuff because under the flame it doesn't char briquettishly but liquefies and balloons as only the best hash does!")

He passes the pipe to me, and against my better judgment I take a solid pull. The flavor is so purely chemical that it tastes less like an agricultural product than a hit off a Scotchgard can. To my surprise, my suddenly extremely stoned mind doesn't begin its habitual uncellaring of '45 Mouton Rothschild self-hatred and social anxiety. Nor do I experience the urge to flee all human company or sink into fearful silence. Instead, I feel clairvoyant, adrenalized, and full of bonhomie. I loiter on the sofa, chatting amiably and confidently, utterly untroubled that I can't recall a word I've said the instant after I utter it. It's a wonderfully liberating, energizing mind erasure. At last, on the cusp of middle age, I've discovered a strain of dope that I like very much, though it's probably a good thing that it sells at twice the price of gold.