Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on Making Parmesan Cheese, 24 Feb. 1820, 24 February 1820

On Parmesan Cheese.

The reader will recollect that Mr. Pickering made some remarks on the making of Parmesan Cheese, as gathered from a conversation with Mr. Jefferson, respecting his travels in Europe, when he was there as minister from the United States to the French court We now submit the following letter from Mr. Jefferson himself, with an extract from his travelling notes, detailing his observations on the subject. The young reader, will be at no loss to extract the moral conveyed by the example of these eminent men, who in the midst of publick duties of the highest political importance, have never thought it too much condescension to turn aside when opportunities occurred, to treasure up any sort of useful information, which might enable them to contribute to the private comforts and unostentatious pleasures of domestic life.

From a highly accomplished gentleman and scholar, who once filled a high station in the government and is now a zealous agriculturist, we heard an anecdote illustrative of the idea, we would here convey, which, because it struck us as highly honorable to our country, and creditable to the parties, we may be excused for relating.

This gentleman was entertaining a large dinner party, amongst them all the foreign ministers and many of the most distinguished members of Congress, at the time, with others Mr. Pickering and Mr. Hillhouse. The host gave the tone and direction to the conversation of the company, and after dwelling for some time on scientific and literary subjects, in which farmers Hillhouse and Pickering, bore a conspicuous and honourable part, he led them to discourse on agriculture, when it came out to the utter surprise of many of the company, more especially the foreign ministers, that these two venerable gentlemen actually participated in the manual labour of almost every operation on their farms. To dissipate all uncertainty, on a matter that seemed so inconsistent with the usual habits of men in their station, Mr Pickering turned to his next neighbour, and, giving him his hand, he no longer doubted.

Monticello, Feb. 24th, 1820.

Mr. Skinner.

Sir,—A low state of health renders writing slow, laborious and painful; but a friend has aided me by copying from my travelling notes the method of making Parmesan Cheese, which you requested.

I attended at a dairy at Rozzano, from sun-rise to sun-set, made short notes on the spot of what was passing under my eye, and of the information given me by the people of the dairy, and when I returned to my lodgings at Milan at night, I wrote them at full length.

Soon after my return to America, in 1789, or a year, or two after, I saw in some periodical publication, an account of the making Parmesan cheese, furnished by Dr. Franklin, on the information of some person, who appeared to be well informed. I remarked in it several particulars, which I had omitted to note, which I recollected to be true, and several particulars omitted, which I had noted and knew to be true, and thought the two accounts would be useful supplements to each other; there were two periodical works appearing at that time, to one of which I know that Dr. Franklin furnished some papers: these were Carey’s Museum, and the American Magazine, it was probably in one of these but possibly in some other, for I have no recollection exactly of the work in which I saw it; but it is well worth enquiry. I return the letter of Mr. Pickering, and salute you with esteem and respect.



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