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The Embargo Issue
Workin’ On My Night Cheese
“Cheddy Krueger” illustration by Johnny Ryan
There’s an old wives’ tale that claims that eating cheese before bed makes you dream weird and incredible things. For serious? The British Medical Journal thinks so. A finely-aged 1964 edition tells of a man whose nightly supper consisted of cheddar, served straight up. This man was haunted by horrible, horrible nightmares:
“He dreamt of [a workmate], terribly mutilated, hanging from a meat-hook. Another, he dreamt of falling into a bottomless abyss. When cheese was withdrawn from his diet the nightmares ceased.”
As we know, the British Medical Journal doesn’t lie. Doctors don’t study for ten years just so they can make shit up in a trade mag. Neither do old wives, for that matter. But if you’re still sitting there making scrunched-up “cheese isn’t a drug” faces at me, you’re not alone. For some weird reason, everyone wants to disprove the cheese-dream myth. For example, I told my housemate last night and she was all like, “Yeah, I suppose so. But it’s just cheese.” Just cheese? You’re an idiot, Claire.
The fact is, cheese doesn’t grow on trees. It’s made using a pretty elaborate mélange involving milk, rennet (an enzyme taken from mammalian stomachs), and any number of molds—a hodgepodge of ingredients and baffling techniques. Most important, somewhere during that whole process, a thing called tyramine is produced. This is essentially a form of dopamine that, while it can’t get you stoned, can trigger high activity in the part of the brain that controls REM. In other words: If you shove a whole lot of it in your face just before sleepies, weird shit might happen.
So in the spirit of science, we bought about $50 worth of cheese and roped some poor young people in to eat it and then go to sleep. Here are their stories.
Vice: Talk us through your cheeses.
Lauren: Well, I ate a fist-sized block of vintage cheddar and a decent wedge of Gruyère.
Just the hard stuff, eh?
That’s how I like my cheeses. It did make me feel pretty sick, though.
Thought it might. Tell us what you dreamt.
Well, for starters I dreamt I made a concoction of eggs and sugar and smeared it all over my body. I did it multiple times; the first instance was alone in my house, which wasn’t actually my home, and the next time my home was part of the street and there were people around.
Totally. You know when you dream that you can get away with doing something but then you realise 20 or 30 people are watching you? Anyway, I’m not sure what it was about, if it was for my skin or whatever. I don’t even really eat eggs.
What happened next?
Next I had a dream I was in another country and this old lady was asking me for my hot chips. She was being really pushy and annoying, which was a common theme throughout the night.
Your dreams were annoying?
Yeah, angsty and stuff. Pretty much everyone pissed me off. So, I was feeding her these chips one by one—I think she was homeless—and she kept looking over to her husband and saying something in a weird language, like Russian or something.
What do you think she was saying?
I think she was saying something like, “See? This is how you get the chips!”
Do you remember anything else?
Yes. I dreamt about the girl I had dinner with and she had some weird sunglasses on. And I dreamt there were all these young kids in my house having a party. I tried to politely ask them to leave but they were basically little shits. It was actually really frustrating.
I’m sorry to hear it.
I know, I usually have a lot of crazy and vivid dreams, but they’re never this angsty and frustrating. Plus, it gave me a tummy ache. Thanks a lot, cheese!
So, cheese dreams: fact or fiction?
Well, I usually have weird dreams, but these were super-vivid and, as I said, heaps more annoying than usual, so I’m gonna go with fact.
Vice: What delicious cheese did you get to eat last night?
Lani: Pretty shit selection, actually. You guys left me with a block of Coon [an unfortunately named Australian brand of cheddar cheese] and a packet of Kraft Singles.
Cheap and cheerful. Did you dream?
Yes, I did, as a matter of fact. A couple of times, actually.
My first dream took place around a picnic table in a garden. It was me and two friends, and one of them was doing a kind of healing on us. He had a boom box and we had to do this trance dance while sitting down.
That dream sounds boring. What else have you got?
Well, next I dreamt I went to my friend Harriet’s mum’s house. It was really huge, and for some reason I was moving in. I had this really beautiful room. Anyway, I went to go out the back to this studio because everyone was telling me I had to go see this door.
Go see a door?
Yeah, it was stained glass. So, I was going out the back and Harriet’s mum had left three pots of soup on the steps. I don’t know why, but I stepped in them on purpose.
OK, I suppose that’s a bit weird.
So I’m standing with a leg in a pot each and everyone is looking at me funny.
Then what happened?
Well, to make it better, I put my hand in the third pot.
Hey, it wasn’t very good cheese.
Did you notice any effect from the cheese at all?
Maybe a little. I definitely dreamt, which is good. Sometimes I don’t dream at all. Perhaps with better-quality cheese…
Vice: What did you eat?
Tait: Soft stuff. One small wheel of Camembert and about 100g of pungent blue Stilton.
Your body must hate you right now. Any dreams?
I dreamt I was sitting in the front row of a nameless high school classroom with a collection of faceless friends. A teacher walked out the door, and as she left I said, “Goodbye, Substitute Hickling.” She turned around and said, “What did you say? How DARE you!” Then I said, “What? What? What did I say wrong?” And she said, “You called me stupid Hickling! You’re in big trouble, boy!” So I pleaded and pleaded that I didn’t say “stupid” at all and actually said “substitute,” but nothing worked.
What do you think it means?
I think it boils down to the fact that in high school I felt as if anytime I tried to do the right thing, I was always accused of doing the wrong thing. Not terribly Freudian, but I guess that’s what the cheese was trying to tell me.
Well, that sounds vivid at least. Anything else?
After the Substitute Hickling episode, I went with my high school friend Sam to Chris’s house, where he showed us the Flinders Street clock replicas he was selling to old people in Bayswater. Then I woke up.
That’s kind of a letdown, considering how awful that Stilton smelled.
I thought so too. I’m usually a pretty intense dreamer, though. Maybe it’s like giving speed to kids with ADD.
Works as a theory… So in a way, you’re saying that cheese dreams do exist.
I guess I am. Wow.
So there you have it. Pretty conclusive stuff. Three out of three people think cheese dreams sort-of kind-of exist. So, have a Gouda night and don’t let the Muensters bite! Cheese puns!