It was almost a year ago that chef Daniel Angerer set the web ablaze by making cheese out of his wife's leftover breast milk. This is how things looked on the boob-cheese front back in March:
"Pretty much the minute that New York City chef Daniel Angerer decided that he was going to make cheese from his wife's leftover breast milk, the Internets have been going nutsy-cuckoo for the story. There have been wild rumors (like the one about him selling the cheese at his restaurant, Klee Brasserie, which isn't true at all); rampant speculation (mostly about whether or not doing such a thing is a good idea in the first place, some about why chefs haven't thought of this before, a lot about other people's experiences with making things--like pancakes and ice cream--out of breast milk, and even a question of whether breast-milk cheese--because it is considered parve, neither dairy or meat for kosher purposes--could be used to make kosher cheeseburgers); and calls from the health department (which was chasing the rumor that he was selling human cheese on the menu) informing him that he could not serve mommy brie to the public. And Angerer (along with his wife, Lori Mason, who supplied the raw materials) has all of a sudden found himself in the middle of a food-media firestorm--all because he made a food product out of something biologically made to be food."
That was then. And in the year since, the debate has quickly moved out of the realm of sustenance and commerce and become art. Of a sort.
Recently, Miriam Simun decided to create her own human cheese, as part of a course at New York University's Interactive Technology Program called "Living Systems."
Well, not her own, really. She actually used breast milk donated by one woman in New York who was "overproducing, filling up her freezer, and was finding it painful to just throw it away," according to an interview on the website foodandtechconnect.com. She also bought milk from another woman in Wisconsin and had it shipped to her.
And I should also say that it wasn't purely breast-milk cheese. In the three different versions she made ("Sweet Airy Equity," "Wisconsin Bang," and "City Funk"), she cut the human product with either cow or goat milk.
Finally, her reasons for doing this in the first place were . . . complicated.
"We are designing life to an extent never before possible," she wrote in a statement accompanying the website that details her breast-milk-cheese display as part of the ITP Winter Show & Tasting at Postmasters Gallery in New York. "Science speeds ahead while people attempt to catch up to understand the implications, and legislate how we want our world to be. This is especially true with biotechnology (consider the GM food debate). Advances in biotechnology enable us to redesign our food, our weather, our fellow animal species, and even ourselves. We continue to find ever new ways to use each others' bodies as factories (consider the sale of hair and semen, the donation of blood and kidneys, the retention of wet nurses, and the growing reproductive tourism industry).
"Simultaneously, we realize that our lifestyles are unsustainable, unhealthy, and unethical. Industrialized food systems are a prime example: we abuse animals, exploit people, pollute the earth, and destroy our bodies as we eat. Food is a site of contention and revolution. Food is also one of our strongest links to the natural world, and the oldest site of social gathering--thus a wonderful vehicle for discussion.
To explore these issues and engage others in discourse I am developing a system for sourcing, creating, and distributing human cheese."
She put it somewhat more succinctly in a radio interview I heard with her recently, saying simply that her product was the only local cheese someone in Manhattan could get. And for those of you out there who are just terribly concerned with eating exclusively local . . .
Unsurprisingly, now that Simun has had her show, shown off her human/cow and human/goat cheeses, and made her statement about locality, ethics, and the food chain, she is moving forward with making more boob cheese. She wants to make a cheese that is 100% human (with no cow or goat fillers), and to go even more hyperlocal by making cheese specific to different boroughs. And, of course, she's planning a whole series of human-cheese tastings scheduled throughout the winter and the spring.
Interested? You can keep up with Miriam and her cheesemaking at miriamsimun.com.