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Gorgonzola, June 16th, & Ulysses

by Katie Glaudell

Did you know that Gorgonzola cheese has a starring role in one of the greatest novels ever written?

On June 16th, 1904, Mr. Leopold Bloom, protagonist of Ulysses, walks into a pub in Dublin and orders a Gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of red Burgundy wine for lunch. As he mulls over the sensory pleasures of the meal–“the feety savour of green cheese,” “pungent mustard,” and “mild fire of wine”–he attempts to push away intrusive thoughts of his wife’s affair. The pub clock ticks on, drawing ever nearer to the hour when he knows she’ll be meeting with her lover, as he desperately tries to lose himself in daydreams of the warm Burgundy sun.

This scene, fraught with tension and packed with sumptuous imagery, solidified the Gorgonzola sandwich as a legendary symbol of the 1922 novel by James Joyce, and fans of Ulysses recreate it around the world every year on June 16th–also known as Bloomsday. Some people even go visit the very place where Mr. Bloom eats this meal–a real pub in Dublin called Davy Byrnes–and the Gorgonzola sandwich is still on the menu after almost 120 years. 

Food as Immersive Storytelling

For me, recreating meals from my favorite novels helps me feel closer to the characters and gain a better understanding of their world–much in the same way that eating a petit madeleine transports Proust back to his childhood. In researching the Gorgonzola sandwich in Ulysses, I learned about the wave of Italian immigration to Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries, bringing with it skilled architectural craftsman, civil engineers, an Irish-Italian Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1906–and delicious cheese. I also discovered that Irish author Samuel Beckett also featured Gorgonzola in his 1934 short story “Dante and the Lobster.” While Joyce was Beckett’s mentor, the two were at times competitive “frenemies,” and some theorize that Beckett’s satirical depiction of the Gorgonzola-obsessed eccentric in his own story is a deliberate jab at Joyce and Ulysses.

Learning all this, my understanding of the literary world and historical Dublin has become funnier, richer, and more interesting–all simply by digging deeper into a meal eaten in one of my favorite novels. Food is more than just the fuel required for our bodies to run–it is history and memory and art. It is, much like novels, a way to understand other points of view.

Cheese in Literature

This inspired me to develop a Cheese in Literature class for Marché this past February, of course with Mr. Bloom’s Gorgonzola sandwich on the menu, as well as other cheesy pairings in homage to beloved works like Don Quixote and Les Misérables. I had so much fun researching and creating the menu, and finally sharing it with the customers in the class. It rekindled my joy of reading, and sparked discussions about history, book recommendations, and best of all, recipe ideas.

So, in honor of Bloomsday, go find yourself some Gorgonzola and red Burgundy, or recreate a meal from one of your own favorite books. Happy eating and happy reading!

Don Quixote bites

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