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.


anne said...

The Recipe Writer's Handbook and Food Lover's Companion both capitalized it. It's too late for me to remember the rules correctly, but I believe that when it is associated with the place of origin it needs to be capitalized. If you don't have these two books, I strongly suggest you buying them. Very useful, and standardly used by the publishing houses too.

anne said...

Should be "capitalize" it---present tense. Sorry; I hate being sloppy. Off to bed!

Zander said...

not completely related to the post at hand, but still...

Jen R. said...

I agree with the logic of capitalizing foods associated with places. One would not write "swiss" cheese. But with this reasoning we must make sure to capitalize "Burgundy" too.

Dang, now I want a midnight snack. There's a tasty morsel of gouda in the fridge ... or is it Gouda?

Watson Blair said...

I wanted to get into contact to see if you would be willing to cross link between Cheddar Bound and the site I work for, is an Internet Television Network (essentially a collection of some fairly well produced video blogs) that focuses on the sentiment of Information through Entertainment. We just launched on June 8th with our coverage of the Red Carpet Event at the James Beard Awards with David Rosengarden as our interviewer.

If your interested in cross linking with us a link for Cheddar Bound will appear in the lower left hand corner of relevant pages on (fair warning, our link organization system is getting a massive overhaul, so the links are completely randomized until the end of August) based on meta tags assigned to each blog. In your case this is means you'll show up along side our show Cheese 101 (hosted by David Rosengarten). So come on by, check us out, and if your interested fire off an e-mail to me and I'll get you on the roll.


P.S. I'm casting my vote for Big C on the Cheddar, after all it is a proper noun... right?

Anonymous said...

Hi Diana.

I have no constructive comments except "Cool blog!" Good luck on your trip!


Yvonne said...

Random comment - I like to call my favourite city Edinburgh 'The Big Cheese' (to which I came by via Edincheeseburger)...

Andy Moore said...

Small c for me.

Anonymous said...

I work as a copy editor, and the house style on my previous magazine dictated Chedder cheese was with a capital 'C'.

I've just included it as the above in a different publication - and the editor told me, in her direct way, all good foodies use chedder cheese.

House style all the way...!