But this is just bizarre — the culture that brought us cheese enthusiasts Wallace & Gromit now has a Web site focused on a 44-pound round of cheddar that gets fan mail. Cue Nero ...
Steve Forrest for The New York TimesWESTCOMBE, England, April 10 — The cruel randomness of celebrity became clear to Tom Calver in February, when the cheese got a romantic Valentine in the mail and he did not.
The home of the celebrity cheese in Westcombe is a working farm.
“What has he done?” Mr. Calver asked of the cheese in question, a 44-pound round of cheddar currently maturing on his farm in this Somerset hamlet. (Mr. Calver’s farm, not the cheese’s.) “He’s just sat there and got moldy.”
But in common with other instant media sensations and members of the world’s ditzerati, the cheddar has not been impeded in its rise to fame by the modest nature of its accomplishments. As the star of Cheddar-vision TV, a Web site that carries live images of its life on a shelf (www.cheddarvision.tv), the cheese has been viewed so far more than 900,000 times.
“It seems to have engaged many people who might not otherwise have bothered to engage with cheesemaking,” said Dom Lane, a spokesman for West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers, of which Mr. Calver is a member.
Mr. Lane helped set up the Webcam in December, when the cheese was made, beginning as milk from Mr. Calver’s herd of Friesian-Holstein cows and then progressing through the standard curds (and whey) phase on its path to becoming a hunk of cheddar. It is to remain on the shelf until December, when, fully mature, it is to be sold for charity.
“We were thinking, ‘How can we demonstrate to people just how long it takes to make a really good cheddar?’ ” Mr. Lane said. “And then we thought: ‘Let’s film it from start to finish. That’s really funny because there’s nothing to see.’ ”
Quite. The cheddar is not busy. It just sits there in a dank, climate-and-humidity controlled cheese-ripening warehouse, subtly aging with hundreds of other cheeses. Once a week a man named Gary, Mr. Calver’s cheese-turner, comes in and turns it to redistribute the moisture within. Compared with the cheese-cam, the old Yule Log on television was a roiling hotbed of nonstop commotion.
As befits an inert object of obsession, the cheese has become a blank slate upon which admirers can express their passions and idiosyncrasies. Poems and songs have been written about it. It has been invited to a wedding. At Easter, it received an anonymous gift of chocolate and decorative chicks.
E-mail correspondents have engaged in a lively debate about the metaphysical significance of the cheese’s mold patterns. From the United States, a teacher announced that his class had set up a wall of cheese, where students could post photographs of the cheese “in various states of rotation.”
Cheddarvision is only the latest boring Internet Webcam to randomly seize the public’s imagination, here in a country with an apparently unparalleled ability to produce them.
The ur-site was probably the one that showed a coffee pot in a Cambridge University computer lab in 1991. First displayed on the internal network as a way to show lab workers when the coffee was ready so they would not have to make fruitless journeys to the coffee machine, the site went global in 1993. It had more than two million visitors before being switched off in 2001.
Other dull British sites, helpfully compiled by Oliver Burkeman in a recent article in The Guardian, include one that shows nothing happening on a side street of Neilston, a suburban village near Glasgow. Another one (now defunct) showed a pile of compost in Sussex.
“It’s possible that you watched the compost decompose with a deep appreciation for the never-ending natural cycles of life and death,” Mr. Burkeman wrote. “Then again, maybe you were just bored.”
Back here in Westcombe, Mr. Calver denies that his cheese is boring. “The mold is growing,” he said. “Microscopically, you would see a lot of action.”
In fact, a time-release film of the cheese shows the effects of age on its person, as it progresses inexorably from young and smooth to old, veiny and mottled. Seeing the film is a poignant reminder of the ravages of time, similar in effect to watching, say, all the movies of Robert Redford or Nick Nolte in quick chronological succession.
Mr. Calver tasted the cheese in March, on the same day he graded it. (It will be graded twice more, at three-month intervals.) He has high hopes for it, but it is not the only cheese in his life.
“Obviously, I feel quite a lot for all the cheeses,” he said. “It’s like having lots of children. You can’t show one more affection than the others.”
The Web site is taking submissions for its name-the-cheese contest. Mr. Calver’s suggestion is “Tom’s Cheese,” but other possibilities include “Wedginald” and “Cheesus.”
As befitting a celebrity, the cheese has its own page on MySpace.com, where we learn that it is a Capricorn, that it is not interested in having children and that it has 521 friends.
Mr. Calver is not quite sure why anyone would want to watch his cheese, although he said it might have something to do with the frenetic and provisional nature of life today.
“It’s a security,” he said. “It’s something that’s there 24 hours a day. I heard of someone who said they looked at it before bed and found it a nice, comforting thing. You should really talk to a psychologist.”