Greek Societies do Wine and Cheese

In 1954 the Kappa Nu fraternity, now part of Zeta Beta Tau, held a wine and cheese at the University of Buffalo in New York. College newspaper the Spectrum mentioned the event and other doings of Buffalo Greeks, in a piece “Partying Greeks”.*

In its words:

 Last Saturday Kappa Nu held an open wine and cheese party. “Be alive in 55”. See you at the Kappa Nu Year Ball at Kleinhans Music Hall. SAN’s pledges were rewarded with their keg of beer for beating the brothers in football Sat. night.

Be Alive in ’55 was a punning allusion to the “Red” and A-bomb scares of the Fifties. The party was “open”, which likely meant not restricted to frat members and pledges.

The story suggests no novelty for such an event, so the wine and cheese was probably already a standard way to socialize, at least in some circles.

Kappa Nu was an early Jewish-majority fraternity, dating from before WW I. Later it amalgamated with similar organizations to form ZBT, well-known among Greek societies in the U.S. and today non-sectarian.

The 1954 article was published with Christmas and New Year approaching, and contains various references to booze and partying. But year end or not, the piece conveys certainly that alcohol figured regularly in frat events.

(I had nothing against frats in my college years although we moved in different circles, and I never joined one).

Some activities are non-grata today, the Apache party grates in particular, but we are talking almost 70 years ago.

In my last post I discussed a historic wine and cheese event held in 1936 by the Wine and Food Society of New York. 18 years later, a college social organization holds a similar event. What links them I think is the social status of the groups involved, aspirant middle class.

The connection on the ground may have been as simple as a man who attended the 1936 event suggesting to his son in 1954 to organize something similar. Likely too the kind of people who attended these events, or their parents, had travelled to Europe and been exposed to cultures that valued wine and cheese.

Also, Finger Lakes is a wine region, not far comparatively from Buffalo, New York. Long-established wineries in the region included Great Western Winery which probably supplied wine for the 1954 party. I’d think frats and sororities at Cornell in Ithaca were holding similar events, perhaps spurred by the marketing departments of area wineries.

So, from an early start in big city culinary gatherings, the wine and cheese springboards to the campus, and ends by the 1970s as a staple of American entertaining. Some reading may recall the style of wine and cheese parties back then: cheeseboards festooned with miniature national flags on Brie, Comté, Stilton, Oka, Parmesan, etc.

The breweries of New York State in the 1950s-70s should have perceived a similar opportunity, but didn’t. Ironically, there appears on the same page as the Spectrum Greeks a handsome ad from long-disappeared Iroquois Brewery in Buffalo.

It contained no suggestion to bring cheese to keggers much less to pair specific types with particular beers. Breweries then didn’t see their product as suitable for this, even in a university setting.

Craft brewing culture turned all that around, finally.

Note re image. Image was extracted from news article linked in the text, via the New York State Historic Newspapers. All intellectual property in source belongs solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*From Greek-letter social fraternity.