The Greeks Do Wine and Cheese

Back in 1954, Kappa Nu, a college fraternity now part of Zeta Beta Tau, held a wine and cheese party at University of Buffalo in New York. A university newspaper, the Spectrum, chronicled the event together with doings of other Buffalo Greeks.*

The affair was dubbed Be Alive in ’55. You have to have remembered the “Red” and A-bomb scares of the Fifties to get the full humour in that.

The party was “open”, presumably not restricted to fraternity members and pledges.

Kappa Nu has an interesting history, it was one of the early fraternities (pre-WW I) largely composed of Jewish members. It later amalgamated with similar, yet-older organizations, of which Zeta Beta Tau is the successor. ZBT is well-known amongst the Greek societies in the U.S., and is today non-sectarian. Perhaps the open nature of Kappa Nu’s 1954 party was a harbinger of ZBT’s inclusiveness in 2017.

In the short article referenced, the words cocktail, beer, wine, and Champagne all appear. Of course it was the holiday period. Still, one gets a flavour of frat social life in the 1950s. (Or is “frat social” tautological?).

Beeretseq has nothing against the frats, but we moved in separate paths during my college years. Based on the Buffalo Greeks’ social calendar in 1954, a lot of it looked like good fun and socializing: wine tastings, “keggers”, football. To be sure, some of the doings have no place in today’s society (e.g., Apache parties), but this is 60 years ago. We live, we learn.

In my last post, I discussed a 1936 wine and cheese tasting held by the Wine and Food Society of New York at the Waldorf Hotel. 18 years later, a college social organization holds something similar. What links them is the privileged social status of the groups involved: an elite gastronomic society, a distinguished university fraternity. Participation in both required disposable income, but also the participants were likely well-educated, or on the path. Some would have been exposed to wine in Europe or at the parents’ dinner-table.

Further, both these events were held in the same state. The brother who hatched Be Alive in ’55 may have got the idea from his father or an uncle who attended the 1936 event at the Waldorf, or a similar event.

Bear in mind too the Finger Lakes Region in New York is not far from Buffalo. Long-established wineries there, including Great Western Winery, probably supplied some of the wine for these events. Perhaps its sales and marketing people helped organize them. I’d think the Greeks at Cornell in Ithaca, NY were doing similar events in the 1950s.

From an elite social base in the 1930s-1950s, the wine-and-cheese party idea went national, or so we apprehend.**

The breweries should have seen a similar opportunity but didn’t, not at that time. Ironically, a handsome ad appears on the same page of the Spectrum article from Iroquois brewery in Buffalo, a long-disappeared regional brewery. The breweries didn’t see their product as fit for upscale tastings and food pairings, and beer at college meant keggers, basically. There is some irony here, as the idea to pair beer and food intelligently probably predates the wine-and-cheese fete. We’ll explore this soon.

Note re images. The first image was sourced at the clipartfest site and is believed in the public domain. The second was extracted from the news article linked in the text, obtained via the New York State historic newspapers digitized resource. All intellectual property in the sources of the images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized users, as applicable. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*From Greek-letter social fraternity.

**See my last post mentioned, clearly eating cheese with wine or beer itself did not start in the 1930s and expand from there. But the idea of attending a party or reception to appraise the flavours of different wines and cheeses, where nothing else was consumed, seems a 20th century innovation.