Being president comes with a long list of perks: personal chefs, private jets and great seats to NBA games, among others. But one lesser-known perk involves gifts of cheese. The history of presidential gifts of cheese is longer and richer than one might have imagined. National Geographic traced the dairy-filled tradition and has concluded that it's all for the sake of one-upping each other.
The presidential cheese-giving began in 1802, when the people of Cheshire, Massachusetts, gave Thomas Jefferson a 1,200-pound wheel of cheese engraved with the slogan, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” In 1835, Andrew Jackson received an even bigger wheel of cheese—1,400 pounds—from a colonel in New York who thought it might be a good PR stunt for his home state. Not to be outdone, at the 1911 National Dairy Show, William Howard Taft performed a ceremonial cutting of a 6-ton cheese wheel.
Our current president has carried on the cheese tradition in the past two years by instituting the Big Block of Cheese Day. The now-annual event following the State of the Union was inspired by Andrew Jackson himself: Unable to finish his cheese alone, Jackson invited thousands of citizens into the White House to share it while discussing their concerns. To the best of our knowledge, President Obama has yet to receive a wheel larger than Taft’s, although with almost two years left in his term, there’s still plenty of time for this commander in cheese.