Green Cheese.

I saw this comment at Language Log:

CuConnacht said,
October 27, 2023 @ 2:18 pm

The idea that even a simpleton could think that the moon was made of green cheese puzzled me in my childhood, since it obviously was not green at all. It turns out that “green cheese” = fresh cheese, curds newly placed in a hoop for pressing and aging, to which the full moon does indeed bear a resemblance.

I checked the OED, and sure enough (entry revised 2011):

green cheese

(a) New or fresh cheese; cheese which has not been ripened or matured. (b) Soft cheese made from skim milk or whey. (c) Cheese coloured green, frequently in a variegated pattern, with sage (cf. sage-cheese n.) or another ingredient.

In the saying to believe that the moon is made of green cheese (see moon n.¹ Phrases P.2) it is not clear which sense of green cheese is intended; the likely reference is to the mottled surface of the moon, which might be likened to any of the senses.

I thought that was interesting enough to share, and posting it may help me to remember it.


  1. Trond Engen says

    Not only English. My grandmother and my mother both used to say Hvis månen var en grønn ost! as a reply to a unrealistic claim or hypothetical. To me, the greenness just added to the absurdity. I have no idea if the meaning “fresh cheese” ever existed in Norwegian.

  2. Stu Clayton says

    Wasabi cheddar is green. Like the moon, it is far out.

  3. Dmitry Pruss says

    Green cheese was a thing in my young years and it was a close relative to an American pizza-joint parmesan – a yellowish coarse powder, perhaps with a faint green tint, but most of the green color was on the packets it was sold in. Powdered green cheese had a very cheesy reputation, sometimes derided as a freeze-dried vomit, sometimes with a reference to the location of the factory, Смердинская слобода, г. Рыбинск, which could be read as Stinky Borough, Fishy Town

  4. Of course it’s absurd that the moon is made of green cheese. There isn’t enough biomass on the Earth, let alone milk, to produce that much cheese. Much more sensibly, green cheese is made of moon chunks.

  5. There is also unidentified green cheese in

    Brea, bûter en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk

  6. There’s which has green mold, similar to blue cheese. It’s produced in very small amounts, but I’ve tasted it an it is superb.

  7. There is also unidentified green cheese in

    Brea, bûter en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk

    When I saw the title of the post I thought it was going to be about this rhyme and about Frisian and English.

  8. P.S. The eyes of Mother Google are watching us. Right after I posted on this thread, this video came up on my Youtube feed:

    ( I am having trouble adding links so its just the web address for now, but the video is called “A Frisian Enclave in the USA?” from the channel History with Hilbert.)

    P.P.S. Ah well, now it sort of worked.

  9. I always wanted to ask English speakers what is “green cheese”.

    When I saw the title I thought: “is it possible that they too are confused and LH is just about to write a post about it? Too good to be true….[because I was confident English speakers know what they’re speaking about] But if ‘green cheese’ were familiar, LH would have added something to the title….”

  10. I always thought it was cheese that happened for some reason to be green!

  11. Trond Engen says

    The World Cheese Awards 2023 were held this week in Trondheim. The winner was a local blue cheese — looking green in some photos, which is why I came to think of it — but my impulse for chauvinist pride is triggered even more by the 4th place.

  12. CuConnacht says

    You made my day, hat!

  13. @LH, just as I did:/ Thank you!

    @Y, I know a lady who worked in a lab that studied first Soviet samples of Moon when those were studied there.
    But I don’t know know if they tried to eat some or mixed them with pasta…

  14. I have had several types of bleu cheese in which the mold veins grew green.

  15. In my understanding, the correct saying is:
    Bûter, brea en griene tsiis, wa’t dat net sizze kin is gjin oprjochte Fries
    Meaning: who the first part (butter, bread, green cheese) cannot pronounce correctly, is not a true Frisian.

  16. As an aside, although I may have overlooked someone else mentioning it, the saying believe that the moon is made of green cheese taps into a widespread fable, described here with many further links (also as in Marie de France’s version here). I wonder if there was a popular version of this fable circulating in northern Europe and using a formulaic green cheese, griene tsiis, en grønn ost, etc.

    (Short comment because I am on the road.)

  17. “In my understanding, the correct saying is:
    “Bûter, brea en griene tsiis, wa’t dat net sizze kin is gjin oprjochte Fries”


    No one version is right and the others wrong. Rather, the variants fall into two categories:

    (1) those intended to be tongue twisters (such as that variant).

    (2) those intended to show the similarity between Frisian and English (such as Brea, bûter en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk). Into that category also fall English variants (such as Butter and cheese is good English and good Fries AND Bread, butter and green cheese is good English and good Fries).

  18. brea, must have contained -d when it appeared in this saying… (unless they drop it for phonetical/phonological reasons and don’t find two pronunciations too different).

    @Dmitry, thank you, I did not know it! Perhaps it disappeared in 80s (and it seems they began to sell it as “powder” only in 70s, it also could be shaped like Schabziger cheese, which it apparently imitates).
    It reappeared later, but you can’t remember everything which they sell in a rotting capitalist supermarket, so much unlike a Soviet shop.

    The first three links (google, зеленый сыр ссср) I tried used three different groups of names (and five names) for what imparts it the green colour, but…. It seems the three groups refer to the same thing: “Trigonella caerulea (blue fenugreek,[2][3] blue melilot, Georgian: ულუმბო, უცხო სუნელი – ulumbo, utskho suneli)

    “Ulumbo” was not used in the links, instead it is “mushroom grass”. The distribution is interesting: Georgian cuisine and Swiss cheese. Plants of the World Online says it is native to Greece, but also “The native range of this species is a cultigen from E. Medit. It is an annual and grows primarily in the temperate biome.“.
    And I think I should add

  19. Dmitry Pruss says

    Yes, the “original” USSR green cheese has gone extinct. I remember that they referred to the herbal component as голубой донник Melilotus caerulea, but now I see that it’s an alternate name for Trigonella coerulea (Schabziegerklee). Probably native to the highland meadows both in the Alps and the Caucasus?

  20. Green cheese for me can only be the Geska Glarus ground Swiss cheese, which describes itself on the package as a “ground low-fat cheese with real Alpine herbs” (and showing a completely green sandwich).
    Didn’t know it’s properly called Schabziger.

  21. My family hails from the island Texel in the Netherlands, where the local cheese in the old days was called Tesselse Groene (Texel Green). Per that Dutch Wikipedia page about it, “it had a sharp taste reminiscent of Parmesan cheese. It derived this taste from the digested grass juice in sheep droppings. An infusion of fresh sheep droppings was added to the sheep’s milk . This colored the cheese and gave it a characteristic, sharp taste.

    “The process was reportedly discovered accidentally. During milking it could happen that sheep droppings ended up in the milk bucket. It was a shame to throw away the milk. Making green cheese turned out to have advantages: it gave the cheese an exquisite taste and it molded and cracked less quickly than the white variety. It became known as Tesselse Groene, but was also made (on a smaller scale) at Wieringen, Terschelling, and Griend (‘Grindsche’) [other islands in the region).

    “Between the 15th and 20th centuries, tens of thousands of these cheeses were exported to countries within Europe. The Tesselse Groene was praised as far away as Italy for its distinct taste, which according to some even surpassed the taste of the famous Parmesan cheese.

    “The use of sheep droppings in the preparation of Tesselse Groene was no secret on Texel . The massive export of cheese came to an end for economic reasons: exporting mutton (mainly to England ) yielded more profits than exporting cheeses. Domestic consumption was increasingly replaced by foreign cheeses such as Roquefort. After 1866, sheep’s cheese was no longer mentioned in the Agricultural Reports.”

    Neverthless, the cheese continued to be made and consumed on the island; my parents who grew up in the 1920s and 30s partook of it and described it, specifically mentioning the secret ingredient of sheep’s droppings. But apparently the authorities banned its manufacture in 1930 for health reasons.

    Since about 2000, Texel sheep cheese has come back into commercial production, but it is “white cheese” not green. No more poop in the cheese.

  22. David Marjanović says

    Probably native to the highland meadows both in the Alps and the Caucasus?

    And to the mammoth steppe in between whenever the is one? “Arctoalpine” distributions – in the Alps and all over Scandinavia – are common among plants and animals; they’re continuous every ice age and disjunct in between.

    An infusion of fresh sheep droppings was added to the sheep’s milk . This colored the cheese and gave it a characteristic, sharp taste.

    “Cheese” and “shit, crap” rhyme in my German dialect (/kas/, /ʃas/). Nomen est enim omen.

  23. Gernot Katzer:

    In the Euro­pean Alps (Switzer­land, Italy), all aerial parts are har­vested at flowering time and always used dried, as a light green powder. Yet, in the Cau­casus (Georgia), the dried seeds are used as a spice; they are ground to­gether with their pods to yield a tan powder.

    Blue fenu­greek​ is a culi­nary herb native to the Alps in Cen­tral and West­ern Europe, and the Cau­casus on the border between Asia and Europe; it is little known outside these regions

    Like most other hard cheese varieties,
    Schabziger is mostly used as a flavouring: It is a tasty, unusual alternative to Italian parmigiano for pasta dishes; it can be used for several types of stuffings; or can be mixed with butter to give a milder bread spread.

    GK also describes khmeli-suneli, tkemali and adjika within this page.

    Same use is described for Soviet Green Cheese: like parmigiano or dipping rye bread with butter in green cheese powder.

    Independently, blue fenu­greek ap­pears in another special­ty of the Alps, namely South Alpine rye breads, whence the name Brot­klee (bread clover). Ground blue fenu­greek leaves are added in minute amounts to the dough of rye breads in Tyrol and Southern Tyrol (which is part of Italy, where it is referred to as Alto Adige). These breads, already quite flavour­ful, acquire a unique taste from the blue fenu­greek. The herb is dried by a special procedure including a fer­menta­tion step; therefore, it acquires a strong, characteristic aroma.

  24. adjika is of course something everyone should familiarise herself with, if she’s interested in modern Russian – and of course, Caucasian – cuisine. It is indispensable.

  25. Why sheep’s cheese, but goat cheese?

    And then, I’d say cow cheese is sloppy and cow’s cheese is wrong; best would be to say cow’s milk cheese.

  26. drasvi, do you make your own adjika, or buy it in the store? Are you more accustomed to the pure pepper kind, or the kind with tomatoes?

  27. No, I buy it. The store or “that lady in the market who sells good adjika”. Since recently I’m considering learning to make it. Nothing I try has the right taste and I can’t tell why I can’t discern the taste and smell of its ingredients: is it just too hot or are those ingredients simply absent?.
    It’s as if they changed their basic variery of pepper (which may be the case). It is brownish and thick.

    There is also liquid Russian adjika: I first heard about it when USSR was breaking up.
    It was not sold, instead women were enthusiastically exchanging its recipes. I don’t recognise it as the same genre, it seems pepper is the only ingredient that it has in common with other adjikas.

    Now it is sold in supermarkets too.

    I don’t know what do you mean by ‘pure pepper kind’ and ‘the kind with tomatoes’, but I think the kind I like does not contain tomatoes and does contain other spices. Which ones, and whether it also contains walnut, I don’t know.

  28. I looked around and got the impression that the Georgian kind is made with tomatoes. A description of homemade Abkhaz adjika (Russian/English, with different pictures) makes me appreciate the care that goes into it. And yes, I have no doubt that having the correct kind of peppers makes a big difference. The range of peppers you’ll find in Abkhazia will be different from that you’ll find in a market in Oaxaca, and you’ll be hard-pressed to reproduce exactly a dish of one with the peppers of the other. Here in the U.S. I’d love to have some fresh zhug but I think my best hope is to find a good kind imported in a jar.

  29. those intended to be tongue twisters

    Not so much tongue twisters as shibboleths for West Frisian. Hollanders can’t say gjin because they have no /g/, and basically nobody else can say rjocht ‘right, recht’ in oprjochte ‘true, genuine, real’ lit. ‘upright’; listen to this Ogg Vorbis file.

    After winning the Battle of Hylpen (Du. Hindeloopen) in 1518, the rebel and pirate “Greate Pier” Gerlofs Donia supposedly used it to sort out his Frisians from Hollander and Low Saxon infiltrators. Unfortunately, the Frisians were defeated in 1523 and that was the end of the last Frisian rebellion.

  30. @John Cowan. Thanks for the correction.

  31. nobody else can say rjocht

    Except Russians.

  32. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    WIWAL, a special Sunday breakfast treat at my grandparents was little processed cheese triangles (or properly circle sectors sold in a little wheel). One of the flavors was alpeost which seems to have been colored with Trifolium alpinum. It was probably based on some “real” alpine cheese, at least so-called, but fancy cheeses were not really a thing in my childhood. We only got the green processed cheese ones because they were in the variety packs.

    (So why is the moon made from green cheese?)

    And how do you say rjocht? I was taught to say gracht by a Dutch person once, it can’t be so much worse.

    Also also, I’ve had to keep my inanities to myself for a week or so because WordPress stopped liking me and I got a colorful blocking screen.

  33. But apparently the authorities banned its manufacture in 1930 for health reasons.

    Was this based on evidence, or simply “Eww!” and early-twentieth-century germ phobia?

  34. iirc, that’s the period when the general attack on traditional fermentation practices across western europe and the settler-colonial world emerged, in the name of “health” but pretty purely as a part of the consolidation of corporatized agriculture (which looked more and less like classical Enclosure depending where you were).

    (which of course continues; my current kefir culture is grown from raw milk kefir that can’t be legally sold for human use in either pennsylvania, where the cows are, or new york, where i am. and having lived with a series of different kefir colonies of different origins, i have yet to see the mold – or any other kind of microorganism – that can survive alongside any kefir culture.)

  35. “But apparently the authorities banned its manufacture in 1930 for health reasons.”

    “Was this based on evidence, or simply “Eww!” and early-twentieth-century germ phobia?”

    No so much “Eww” as a broad, sweeping, typically Dutch/Germanic administrative edict banning any kind of manure from being part of any kind of commercially-sold food. There seems to be a small movement these days to try to bring it back; it is definitely being made for private consumption and trade among friends.

  36. I understand people’s desires to preserve traditional foodstuffs, but there is really no practicable way to ensure that unpasteurized cheese made from dagged milk (or raw pork larb from Thailand) is going to be safe for hunan consumption. There is, of course, the libertarian view that people should be permitted to take such risks, but that is definitely not my political philosophy.

  37. David Marjanović says

    basically nobody else can say rjocht

    Spell it рёхт, and hundreds of millions will get it right – except that the [rʲ] is apical, not laminal like the Russian one, and the vowel is a bog-standard* [ɔ] instead of a Russian [o].

    …Scrolling up again, I see I’m not imagining this after listening 10 times!

    * fittingly

    Hollanders can’t say gjin because they have no /g/

    They can get away with saying is gjin, where it’s devoiced, by just putting their /k/ in. But en griene is reliably going to get them.

  38. Spell it рёхт, and hundreds of millions will get it right

    As I said at 8:01 am.

  39. John Cowan says

    I doubt there were any Russians at the Battle of Hylpen ([hiəlpm̩] in local Frisian, which is very conservative).

  40. David Marjanović says

    As I said at 8:01 am.

    Yes, that’s what I meant by “…Scrolling up again, I see I’m not imagining this after listening 10 times!” I did have trouble believing it. 🙂

  41. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    There may be details in Frisian phonetics that I’m not hearing, but oprjochte seems easy for this Dane to approximate. (And it’s even cognate to oprigtig ~ ‘frank’).

    Also it seems that WordPress forgot it hates me, I haven’t got any of those BLOCKED, MWAHAHA screens lately.

  42. John Cowan says

    But en griene is reliably going to get them.

    On the sound file I hear unvoiced /gr/ here too, which suggests that the speaker has a Dutch accent, though he does get the /rj/ correct (that is, an alveolar trill). Russian is wrong because it has a single-contact trill in /rʲ/.

    Were Danes pronouncing /r/ as [r] in 1536?

  43. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    1536: alveolar, at least. Flap or trill, I’m not sure how anybody would be able to tell how many contacts at this distance. The current uvular approximant, or whatever it is, is part of the spread from Paris that started in the 18th. Stockholm and the north still has [ɾ]. Maybe Trond as well.

  44. Trond Engen says

    Trond as well. Eastern Norwegian has an alveolar tap. This r is very prone to being swallowed by sandhi, like e.g. in <faren> “the father” [²fa.ɳ] (schwa metathesis) and <herlig> [“delightful”] [²hæ:li]. This sandhi is believed to be an obstacle to the spread of the uvular r.

    The uvular r is found on the southern tip and along the southern parts of the western coast. Historically it was very much an urban phenomenon, radiating out from the port cities, but I think it’s been universal for all cohorts from Arendal to Stavanger for half a century. By now north to Bergen, and for the coastal districts north to Sognefjorden,

  45. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Of course Stockholm has the “sandhi” as well, though I usually see it called assimilation. A right-spreading retroflex feature on coronals (including /l/), even over word boundaries. vårt stall (the which occurs in a Christmas carol my choir is practicing) becomes [vɔʈː.ʂʈɑl̴ː]. This would clearly not work with an uvular R.

    Not having any actual Stockholmers around to ask, I’m not sure if faren in allegro speech becomes [fɑɾn] or [fɑɳ:]. Neither sounds wrong.

  46. You should keep a stock of Stockholmers around for such occasions.

  47. David Marjanović says

    The current uvular approximant, or whatever it is

    I think it’s not even uvular anymore: it’s a valiant attempt at producing a pharyngeal trill.

  48. Trond Engen says

    @Lars: i just decided “swallowed by sandhi” sounded better than “assimilated”. But I had to wrap up my comment in a hurry. I didn’t mean to write “sandhi” twice, I forgot to gloss ‘herlig’ as “delightful”, and more importantly: the description of the region of the uvular r can be positively misleading. It’s not outright wrong, but I should either have left it at “is a southwestern phenomenon” or made it clear that Bergen is solidly uvular and has been so for some two centuries.

    Also: I typoed the > after <herlig.

  49. Fixed typo, added definition. (My secretary will send you the bill.)

  50. Trond Engen says

    Thanks. (I’ll tell my secretary to put it on my desk for signing as soon as it arrives.)

  51. DM, in what area?

  52. David Marjanović says

    Denmark, or unclear parts thereof.

  53. @DM, aha, thanks. (I was not sure because the original context was its spread acrros Europe:))
    Well, I believe in Danish…. Why not a pharyngeal trill:)

  54. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I guess if you combine Danish /r/ with stød, as in Lars, the combined impression might be pharyngeal. But omit the stød, as in Larsen*, and you get no further than the uvula.
    *) Don’t ask. But I still don’t think it’s a trill. Either of it.

  55. David Marjanović says

    There’s no r-as-a-consonant in those, just [aː]. Now that I think of it, I suppose the */r/ saves the */a/ from rising toward [æ] or [ɛ]…?

    I mean the surviving consonantal /r/, as in rødgrød. It’s not a trill, because pharyngeal trills are physically impossible for Puny Humans – but it’s a very narrow fricative indeed, and loud.

  56. That Scandinavians have so many death metal bands must be because they are so good with epiglottal trills.

  57. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    æ as i lasen = ‘the rag’ (with stød). Or the surname Lassen. And it is “not wrong” to put an actual consonant in Lars, though DM is right that it’s usually [lɑ::s]. Not as forceful as the initial ones, though.

    The phoneme /a/ is so variable ([æ] to [ʌ]) that it makes me uneasy to use that letter for it. OTOH, it is the only thing in Danish that can be called /a/. Swedish very consistently has [ɑ] for /a/ and Swedes will hear [æ] as /ɛ/ (spelled ä).

  58. John Cowan says

    Which also explains why it is called death metal. Merely being in the vicinity of an epitrill is fatal.

  59. drasvi : I bought a jar of adjika from some supermarket, with the label in Ukrainian and I still have not opened it. I can’t even find it :/

    John Cowan : the difference between death and black metal is something that evades a lot of people.

  60. Being pierced with black metal often causes death.

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