Dairy and Pierre: An Examination of the Cheesemaker and the Writer

Melville, in a curt and rather frank analogy, reminds me of aged cheese.  The kind that kids spit out, teens might pretend to like in an effort to seem grown up, but the only people who actually like it are those old enough to have acquired a taste for it, so to speak. This, in essence, is the novel, Pierre.  A vastly complex and sophisticated tome, it, like some good aged-Vermont-extra-sharp-cheddar, requires small doses to understand and appreciate.  While a kid could, technically consume it, it is unlikely.  While we might force highschoolers to read it, they are probably not garnering the full effect of the novel, but that is not to say, that repulsion is not an important step.  Exposure breeds familiarity and, in small doses and plenty of contemplation.  Pierre (both as a character and a book) reads best in small doses, and the novel is set up to influence the reader to consume it in this way, dividing the story into a plethora of subsets and fragments.

Aging cheese requires a very specific kind of environment, usually a special place one that is dark and is of a cold temperature.  This space is referred to as “the cheese cave” (New England Cheesemaking Supply Company).  Melville had his metaphorical cheese cave in his dark and rather troubled emotional state in writing this novel, and in a way, it shows.  We, as readers, can see the emotional strain, heartache, and the questioning of his previous way of life (the publishing industry).  While this might be off-putting to some readers, I would argue that this is exactly Melville’s prerogative as a writer.  Most people struggle with displacement when it comes to complicated emotions, the lucky ones process their struggles through art and Melville should be applauded for, not only processing his pain with art, but also managing to make money off of it (even if it was albeit, not much), but how many of us can say this about a breakup?  Sadly, all the Ben & Jerry’s I’ve consumed over the years was on my dime, not the unsuspecting bookworm.

Even once the consumer is seasoned enough to genuinely like the dairy relic posed to them, there is another threshold to cross with our metaphorical cheese, even once one can stomach the poignant flavor and smell, there is the reconciliation of the process.  Cheesemaking, is simply put, a bacterial process.  It involves encouraging certain types of bacteria (that would usually make us sick), to grow and flourish in this special form and space, that, somehow, makes it more acceptable.  Which is exactly what Melville is doing with this novel.  While he understands (after much encouragement), that there are less stalker-ish ways to go about his heartbreak, he can finally accept that using the very letter that caused him so much pain as a murderous weapon at Hawthorne’s expense would be frowned upon, nothing (not even the most staunch critical review), could stop him from “acceptably” carrying it out within the space of his tale.  It is worth noting, on this point, that mold is a very natural side effect of aging cheese.  While novice cheesemakers will balk at this, experienced connoisseurs will inform you that it is perfectly acceptable and easily handled via a cloth dampened in heavy salt water (New England Cheesemaking Supply Company).  This aspect, I would argue, is allegorical to the “heavy salt water” (tears), that Melville probably experienced during this cathartic process.

The process of the cheesemaker and the novelist, very much effects the consumer, though in ways the consumer might not fully be able to understand without some further research.  The potential for danger (bacterial or emotional), runs deep and there is no warning on the cover, or packaging, to warn the consumer to safety.  But the process is not the result.  While it is a grand part of it, the writer, as well as the cheesemaker, after producing their work, gives it to the world, where it grows (sometimes mold, sometimes poor reviews, depending on the case), adapts, and is interpretable.  The same cheese that the child spits out, the connoisseur adores and the same book that the bored teen puts down, the English major devours.

But, does this very idea prove the universality of Pierre?  While an unconventional method and flavor, aged cheese, is still cheese (and who is not a fan of that?).  While an unconventional writer with an unconventional style, it is still a vastly important book.  If taste buds change, roughly every seven years, how much more frequently do our brains and literary tastes?  Some books should be revisited as we grow, and Pierre is one such book.  Melville has given us the tale of a boy, trying to become a man in an incredibly vast, complicated, and cruel world, an occurrence as familiar, as having a slice of cheese.  It is something that must be returned to, frequently and often, sometimes by craving, sometimes by orders, sometimes by necessity.   The system might seem a bit ugly, the process scattered, the creator questioned on why they would not pursue an easier endeavor, and yet, no matter what else could be said, it cannot be argued that it is an endeavor of the heart.


Works Cited:

New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. Aging Cheese. New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, 2019. https://cheesemaking.com/blogs/learn/faq-aging-cheese