Cheese, Luxury, and Still-Lives

In the highly specialized world of Dutch still-life painting, artists spent years perfecting the subtleties of depicting banquets and bouquets, responding to demands from a thriving merchant class. However, why were so many still-lifes hanging on the walls of 17th century Dutch middle-class homes, as skilled artists emerged with their own specialties and techniques? Describing them as signs of wealth would only be part of the story, because they also served as symbolic reminders of the ephemeral quality of luxury, an appropriate message for the time. The biblical origins of this idea would have been known at the time, and although it might seem contradictory to thing of such meticulously realistic paintings to have a moral agenda, it is important to remember that they are meant to be staged and artificial. Cheese is an interesting component of these still-lifes, because it has associations with both decay and luxury, part of an ambiguous world of paint and representation.

It’s safe to say that these cheeses were the real deal: raw, grass-fed, and the most flavorful. Here are some cheeses that I enjoy:
Meadow Stone Farm makes fantastic, raw cheese, always offering new varieties (call or email for more available selections).
Bobolink Dairy makes cheese that is available at the Union Square Farmer’s market.

Abbey style cheese made using a traditional trapist-monk recipe • Floris van Dijk’s Still life with cheeseVacherin de Chevre