Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. Happy Monday.
A while back I read a little historical footnote that in 1804 President Thomas Jefferson attended a public party at the Senate where an enormous loaf of bread, dubbed the “mammoth loaf” was part of the food offering.
If you know anything at all about me you know I couldn’t just let this intriguing bit of information go without digging into it further so of course I did some research. And oh boy, did I ever find out more than I bargained for – in fact in the process I came across an even more intriguing bit of trivia.
It seems that enormous loaf was baked to go with a mammoth wheel of cheese that President Jefferson had received as a gift two years earlier. And for the record, I’m using the word mammoth deliberately, because that’s how these items were described at the time. I found a notation that stated Americans of this period were enamored with the term due to their fascination with the then recent discovery of the skeleton of a giant woolly mammoth in the state of New York.
This massive wheel of cheese was the brain child of John Leland, the Elder of a Baptist congregation made up of the staunchly Republican citizens of a farming community located in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. The goal was to recognize and commemorate Jefferson’s long-standing devotion to religious freedoms. Leland asked every member of his congregation who owned even one cow to bring all the milk and/or curd produced on a particular day to a local cider mill.
It was reported that the milk from about 900 cows went into the making of the cheese and that the cider press they used measured six feet in diameter. The final product, once cured, measured more than 4 feet in diameter, 13 feet in circumference and 17 inches high. I read one report that said it weighed in at 1,235 pounds and another that reported 1325 pounds but in either case it was BIG. In fact it was so big it couldn’t be safely moved the entire distance on wheels. The logistics in and of themselves were interesting – it traveled by sleigh from the town to the Hudson River, from there by barge to New York City. Then it was moved to a sloop which carried it as far as Baltimore. The final leg of the trip to Washington D.C was accomplished via a wagon pulled by six horses. All in all, the approximate 500 mile trip took over three weeks to accomplish.
President Jefferson praised the people who had donated the extraordinary gift for the for their skill and generosity Because he believed he should refuse gifts while in office, he paid Leland $200 for the cheese.
The cheese lasted for quite some time as it was gradually consumed at various White House functions over the next couple of years. Finally, on March 26, 1804, the President attended the above-mentioned party designed to rally support for a naval war with the Barbary States. A Naval baker created a huge loaf of bread to accompany the remnants of the mammoth wheel of cheese as well as large quantities of roast beef and alcohol. It’s assumed that the last of the cheese was consumed during the event. An alternate theory is that after this party, the remnants were disposed of in the Potomac River.
Is this bit of historical trivia something you already knew about? And why do you think people are fascinated by things of an unusual size? Is it perhaps the novelty of it all or is it something else entirely?