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February 6, 2024 9 mins

This episode might make you hungry. Just consider it a curious side effect of these great stories.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild. Our world is full of
the unexplainable, and if history is an open book, all
of these amazing tales are right there on display, just
waiting for us to explore. Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

(00:36):
These days, we all know that we shouldn't believe everything
we see on the Internet. Deep fakes and doctorate images
can look very real, which is why it's so important
to know which news sources are trustworthy and which should
be taken with a grain of salt. Back in the
mid twentieth century, though, things were a lot different. People
didn't always view the news with such skepticism, but maybe

(00:57):
they should have. You see on ape of nineteen fifty seven,
a BBC news program called Panorama featured a story that
left its British viewers perplexed. The black and white broadcasts
began with a series of images from the Swiss countryside,
trees covered in blooming flowers, bees pollinating the buds, and
women admiring their gardens. As these idyllic frames flashed on screen,

(01:21):
a British journalist named Richard Dimbleby narrated. Richard was a
respected reporter known for his in depth coverage of World
War Two. His voice was serious as he discussed the
recent weather conditions in Switzerland. He said, and I quote
the past winter, one of the mildest in living memory,
has had its effect in other ways as well. Most

(01:42):
important of all, it's resulted in an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop.
As soon as he said those words, the broadcast cut
to video of a large flowery tree with hundreds of
spaghetti noodles hanging off its branches. Women in traditional Swiss
dresses harvested pasta from the trees. Meanwhile, Richard discussed the
differences between Italian and Swiss spaghetti production. According to him,

(02:06):
Italian spaghetti farms were much larger, while Swiss pasta cultivation
was a smaller, family affair. Of course, Richard explained the
temperate weather was helping the spaghetti trees thrive, but so
is something else. He said, quote Another reason why this
may be a bumper year lies in the virtual disappearance
of the spaghetti weavil, a tiny creature whose depredations have

(02:27):
caused much concern in the past. Now I don't think
I have to tell you that spaghetti weavils do not
exist and pasta does not grow on trees. But here's
the thing. Back in nineteen fifty seven, not all British
people knew that. At the time, spaghetti wasn't a common
dish in the UK. If people ate it at all,
they probably got it out of a can and they

(02:50):
didn't necessarily know how it was made. In the wake
of this bizarre broadcast, the British public was split into
two camps. Most people thought that they had just learned
something new and interest about spaghetti. Some gardeners even called
in asking where they might be able to get their
own spaghetti trees. However, a small minority those who knew
how pasta was actually made, were furious. The BBC received

(03:13):
a flood of calls from people demanding an explanation. Panorama
was supposed to be a serious factual program. Why on
Earth with someone like Richard Dimbleby purposely spread misinformation? It
turns out it was all one guy's idea, and that
guy was not Richard. It was a freelance cameraman named
Charles Dijeger. Charles wanted to create a prank segment for

(03:35):
April fool's Day. He pitched the idea to David Wheeler,
the producer of Panorama, and David thought that it sounded funny,
so he agreed to give the cameraman a meager production
budget of one hundred pounds. Charles found a good location
in the Swiss countryside, cooked a whole bunch of spaghetti
and hung the noodles off the tree's limbs. He even
hired actors to quote unquote harvest the crop. The whole

(03:58):
thing was staged as a joke. Unfortunately, the punchline didn't
really land for British audiences. Nevertheless, in a two thousand
and four interview, producer David Wheeler said that he didn't
regret pulling the prank on the public. He said, quote,
I think it was a good idea for people to
be aware they couldn't believe everything they saw on television,

(04:18):
and that they ought to adopt a slightly critical attitude
towards it. In this way, David was ahead of his time,
and his advice is even more important today. Whenever you
watch TV, read the news, or scroll through social media,
make sure to use your noodle, whether it's baked onto

(04:51):
a pizza, poured over a plate of nachos or sprinkled
on top of a salad. The culinary world just wouldn't
be the same without cheese. The practice of fermenting dairy
goes back thousands of years. It all probably began when
a herdsman noticed some milky'd been carrying had separated into
kurds and whey, And in the many years since, cheesemaking
has become a skill that humanity has refined, giving us

(05:14):
grocery store aisles full of every variety you can imagine. However,
in the early nineteen forties, the United States military found
itself in a bit of a predicament. America had just
entered World War Two, and feeding the nation's troops proved
to be a challenge. The biggest problem was that fresh
food was expensive to ship and it went bad quickly. Ideally,

(05:36):
rations would be relatively cheap and would remain safe to
eat for years. Now. When it came to calorie dense,
shelf stable foods, one item stood out, processed cheese product.
Think about Valveda, invented in nineteen eighteen. It's not cheese
so much as it is cheese adjacent, but it was
inexpensive and it stored well, and that's what the military

(05:58):
neededment N officials contacted Kraft, the company that owned Velveta.
They purchased twenty five million cans of cheese like product,
along with five hundred thousand pounds of cheese flavored spread.
These foods became staples of US military rations. But still
the government wasn't completely satisfied. These products were long lasting

(06:20):
and cheap tobai for sure, but they were also heavy,
and that meant that they still cost quite a bit
to ship to troops around the world, and they were
cumbersome for soldiers to carry around. Now, the obvious answer
was to dehydrate the cheese. Removing the water from foods
makes them exponentially lighter. However, at the time, the only
way to dehydrate food was to expose it to prolonged

(06:41):
high temperatures. This worked for cheese, but it also melted
out all the fat, reducing the calorie dense food to
a pile of dust with very few nutrients. The military
needed a way to take the water out of cheese
while still keeping the fat. In nineteen forty three, they
found the perfect man for the job. His name was
Georgie Saunders, and he worked as a dairy scientist for

(07:02):
the United States Department of Agriculture. George set to work
testing out new methods of dairy dehydration. After lots of
trial and error, he found something that worked, splitting the
drying process into two distinct steps. Instead of just blasting
the cheese with high heat right off the bat, he
started with low temperatures, which trapped in the fat and proteins.

(07:23):
After that, the cheese was broken up into smaller pieces
and dehydrated at a high heat. This resulted in a
cheese powder that was ultra light but still nutrient dense.
George packed these into round disks that were perfect for
storage and shipping, and he called these cheesecakes, not to
be confused with the dessert. Now. I know this might
not sound particularly exciting, but the military wanted to get

(07:46):
people pumped up about cheese powder. In nineteen forty three,
they released a war bond advertisement in which a shirtless
soldier fed his comrade a puck of dehydrated cheese. Suddenly,
dairy dust was all the ray. Fast forward two years
to nineteen forty five, when World War II came to
an end. After all this work to create the perfect rations,

(08:08):
the US military faced another weird problem. They had mountains
upon mountains of dehydrated cheese powder and no soldiers to
feed it to. Once again, the government officials contacted Craft.
This time, instead of buying cheese, they offered to sell
theirs at an extremely discounted price. Basically, they were willing
to take a huge loss just to get all of

(08:29):
this dairy powder off of their hands, and for Kraft
it was a no brainer. They took the military's leftovers
and used them to create a brand new snack. The
first bags hit grocery store shelves in nineteen forty eight,
and they were an instant hit, bringing in millions of
dollars of revenue each year. Today, they're the second most
popular salty snack in America. So what did Craft create

(08:52):
with that government cheese powder? The iconic snack that leaves
your fingers coated in orange colored dust Cheetos. I hope
you've enjoyed today's guided tour of the Cabinet of Curiosities.
Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, or learn more about
the show by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com. The show

(09:16):
was created by me Aaron Mankey in partnership with how
stuff works. I make another award winning show called Lore,
which is a podcast, book series, and television show and
you can learn all about it over at the Worldoflore
dot com. And until next time, stay curious.

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