Monday, June 23, 2008
Big Cheddar or small cheddar?
Cheddar is, of course, a big cheese, both in terms of size and worldwide popularity, but should it be spelled with a big C or a little c?
I can't decide.
Initially, once I had given this issue my full consideration and no longer wanted to switch indiscriminately between both spellings, I opted for a capital C. My guides for spelling it this way were reputable: the New York Times, Fine Cooking, and from Cheddar's country of origin, the Oxford English Dictionary. How can you go wrong with them?
But a friend, to whom I showed some of my writing about Cheddar cheese, curtly dismissed this spelling, along with most of my writing. She pulls no punches. As director of publications for a prestigious academic press, she works with top American scholars in the fields of economics and sociology. With these credentials, as well as glowing references from her authors, she's definitely a reputable source when it comes to proper spelling.
I usually defer to her, but I stuck to my guns. Cheddar was to remain capitalized, and I had other sources to back me up. After all, my friend doesn't work with food writers. Her authors bring up food only in the grim context of the sociology of poverty. If they're discussing government cheese, or "Pasteurized Process American Cheese for Use in Domestic Programs," cheddar should probably remain lowercase, as in blocks of cheddar cheese.
But then I caved to another trusty source, one that I consult almost daily at work and have pretty much memorized, the Chicago Manual of Style, 14th ed. They don't capitalize anything: the seasons and the two solstices; golden retrievers; the big bang theory; cold war; and professional titles like director of publications, the pope, the president of the United States, and the queen of England—they all get the lowercase treatment. If the queen of England isn't capitalized, how can her sovereign nation's cheese be?
Also pulling me in a lower direction was the Association of Food Journalists' FOODSPELL, their "guide to style and spelling for food terms, both common and exotic." For them, cheddar is lowercase. But so is champagne and camembert. If left up to me, I would capitalize camembert since it's a name-protected cheese. Even Blogger's spell check wants to capitalize camembert, underlining the lowercase spelling in red every time I write it this way. AFJ's reasoning for the lowercase spelling is to "deflate the snootiness unwarranted capitals represent." But then why do they capitalize Calvados (an apple brandy made in the Normandy area of France) and Emmentaler cheese (a variety of Swiss cheese from the Emmental Valley)? Are these food products worthy of snootiness? I would understand if they capitalized a brandy made from pears. A noble pear would warrant snootiness.
In a quandary like this, I usually turn to Webster's to settle the score. They're the reason why I capitalize Web site and write it as two words and why I hyphenate on-line. But they don't come down one way or the other about cheddar. Their entry is lowercase, but they say that cheddar is often capitalized. Thanks for nothing, Webster's!
I suppose I could take the middle ground put forward by the independent food writer Edward Behr, of the Art of Eating. He capitalizes Cheddar when referring to proper English, clothbound Cheddars made in the southwest of England. All other cheddars, whether clothbound or plastic wrapped, are kept lowercase.
But Behr's distinction gets too complicated and I like absolutes. I was a Latin teacher after all. What to do? I still don't know. I guess I'll leave it up to my (potential) editors and their house style. Ah, the easy way out.