The Greeks do Wine and Cheese

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

In its own 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 declared “open”, which likely meant not restricted to fraternity members and pledges.

The story suggests no novelty attached to such a party, which suggests it had a certain acceptance in certain circles by the mid-1950s.

Kappa Nu was an early Jewish-majority fraternity, dating from before WW I. Later, it amalgamated with organizations of a similar nature to form today’s ZBT. ZBT is well-known among Greek societies in the U.S., and is non-sectarian, of which the open character of the 1954 party was perhaps a harbinger.

The 1954 article, published with Christmas and New Year’s approaching, contains numerous references to drinking. The words cocktail, beer, wine, and Champagne all appear! But year end or not, the piece conveys a feature of Greek life constant in the public imagination: the liking for booze.

Beeretseq has nothing against fraternities but in my college years, we moved in separate circles. A lot of their calendar back then looks like fun: wine tastings, “keggers”, football games and other sports – maybe I should have joined. (Some activities are non-grata today, the Apache party sticks out in particular, but it was a different time and we must take the record as we find it).

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 the two is the elevated social status of the groups involved: a gastronomic society, a long-established college fraternity.

One way or another, we think the later event was influenced by the former, given too they occurred in the same state. It may have been as simple as a father who attended the 1936 event suggesting to his son in 1954 to organize something similar; but the notion was in the air. Likely too the kind of people who attended these events, or their parents, had travelled to Europe and been exposed to cultures, especially French and Italian, that valued good wine and cheese.

Of course as well, the Finger Lakes wine region is not far from Buffalo, NY. Long-established wineries there included Great Western Winery which probably supplied wine for the 1954 party. I’d think Greek societies at Cornell University in Ithaca were holding similar events, perhaps encouraged by the sales and marketing departments of area wineries.

So, from an early start at big city culinary gatherings, the wine and cheese springboards to the colleges, and ends as a staple of American entertaining by the 1970s. Some reading may recall the cheeseboards then, with miniature national flags placed over the Comté, Stilton, Oka, Parmesan, etc.

The breweries in New York of the 1950s-70s should have perceived a similar opportunity but didn’t. Ironically, on the same page as the Spectrum piece is a handsome advertisement from the long-disappeared Iroquois brewery of Buffalo.

The ad contains no suggestion to offer cheese at a kegger much less to pair specific types with different beers in Iroquois’ range. Breweries then didn’t see their product as suitable for such treatment, even in a university setting. Craft brewing turned all that around, finally.

A further irony is that pairing beer and food intelligently, albeit not at a stand-alone tasting, probably predates “wine and cheese”. 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.