and so to bed……(by the vexed husband of Mrs Pepys)

Samuel Pepys is often quoted in relation to Suffolk cheese, his wife apparently being vexed by it. I’ve taken a look (via project Guttenberg, wonderful thing) at his entry for October 4th 1661 and find that it reads “Friday 4 October 1661
By coach to White Hall with Sir W. Pen. So to Mr. Montagu, where his man, Mons. Eschar, makes a great complaint against the English, that they did help the Spaniards against the French the other day; and that their Embassador do demand justice of our King, and that he do resolve to be gone for France the next week; which I, and all that I met with, are very glad of. Thence to Paternoster Row, where my Will did receive the L50. I borrowed yesterday. I to the Wardrobe to dinner, and there staid most of the afternoon very merry with the ladies. Then Captain Ferrers and I to the Theatre, and there came too late, so we staid and saw a bit of “Victoria,” which pleased me worse than it did the other day. So we staid not to see it out, but went out and drank a bottle or two of China ale, and so home, where I found my wife vexed at her people for grumbling to eat Suffolk cheese, which I also am vexed at. So to bed.”

So, the staff were not happy and Pepys had had a bullish day fuelled by China Beer (which may not have been very strong), by this stage in the timeline Suffolk cheese was probably made of very skimmed milk and rock hard requiring a splitter or grater rather than sliceable like a cheddar. Large quantities of Suffolk cheese were being supplied to the navy, which maybe how Pepys acquired his cheese. The navy later switched to Softer cheshire cheese, with its higher fat context. Rereading the text I’m not sure if Mrs Pepys was vexed by the cheese or the grumbling, was it that she felt they were complaining as Suffolk cheese had fallen out of fashion compared to the softer Cheshire alternative?.

Mr Pepys mentions cheese frequently in his diary, not surprising it was a staple food of the time. Mostly it is along the lines of ‘ate a little bread and cheese. And so to bed.’ I note that he had night sweats on occasion but he put that at the door of the booze.

I would love to know if there are other diaries around from the period, or before and after, was this an issue of fashion, changing tastes or purely deteriorating quality that took Suffolk Cheese from being some of the best in the country to being so vexatious.

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