The Cheese Club, one of the College of William and Mary’s most iconic clubs, has at long last returned from a two-year hiatus. Originally founded in 2013, the club is frequently lauded during admissions tours as a cherished staple of the student body.
Rather than learning about the club during the student activities fair at the beginning of the year — probably the most common way for students to discover on-campus organizations — in the past, many students have come to the College with the express desire to join the Cheese Club.
Jeremiah Foltz ’22, the club’s current president (or “Big Cheese”), explained how joining the Cheese Club was something he looked forward to even before matriculating to the College.
“I’m a transfer student, so even before transferring, I knew I wanted to come to William and Mary, and one of the things I wanted to do was join the Cheese Club,” Foltz said. “It seemed like something that everyone wanted to do. Everyone joined, especially if you were a newcomer.”
However, by the time Foltz had transferred to the College, the pandemic was in full swing, essentially shutting down the Cheese Club. Cheese tastings, which were the primary function of the club, were now impossible to hold in-person due to the College’s restrictions on student organizations, and obviously ill-fit for a Zoom format. During the pandemic came the second, final blow to the organization: everyone on the Cheese Club’s executive board graduated.
The club silently fell into obsolescence for over a year, and if not for Foltz, the club might still be dormant.
This past fall, when restrictions had significantly eased and student organizations were able to resume more-or-less normal operations, Foltz first contacted the Student Leadership Development Group and inquired into the state of the club. He soon discovered that the club had no officers, had not posted anything on social media since before the COVID-19 era and had not attempted to renew as an organization.
Foltz, believing the club to be a “cornerstone” of the College, and one which speaks to its “nicheness,” decided to revive the Cheese Club with the help of Sam Suslavich ’22, Eli Gnesin ’22 and Grace Gouyer ’22 at the beginning of the spring 2022 semester.
Gnesin first learned about the Cheese Club on an admissions tour, and he recalled that the organization was spoken of almost as an urban legend. While he was unable to find the Cheese Club at the activities fair, the club was not so mythical that he was unable to join; Gnesin was eventually able to get in contact with some of its representatives.
“I said, ‘I want to join this,’ and I did,” Gnesin said. “And I loved it. And it was, for two years, one of my favorite things. I showed up every other week. We had cheese. It was great.”
Gnesin’s love of the club stems deeper than even his love of cheese — its eclectic “twampy” nature is part of the appeal.
“Cheese Club is probably my favorite involvement on campus . . . because it’s ridiculous,” Gnesin said. “It’s weird. It’s strange. It’s unique. It’s quintessentially twampy in the best way.… I’m in a religious group, I’m in a fraternity, I’m in this, I’m in that. But nothing I do is so quintessentially twampy as the Cheese Club, and nothing can be.… There’s a reason that it used to get brought up on admissions tours when they were talking about clubs and organizations…. There’s nothing that describes William and Mary better than that.”
Gnesin, who serves as the club’s cheese master, is responsible for selecting the cheeses and their pairings. Gnesin explained that his process for choosing the cheeses is rather informal and based simply on what cheeses he currently is enjoying. The last cheese tasting consisted of brie with wild mushrooms (paired with water crackers), comté (paired with salami and rosemary crackers), and goat’s milk gouda (paired with sour Bing cherries and rosemary and water crackers).
In addition to hosting its staple event of cheese tastings every other week, the Cheese Club has plans to bring other exciting opportunities to its members, including a “‘Ratatouille’ night” at the end of the semester.
“We’re going to watch ‘Ratatouille,’ and then cheeses that are referenced throughout the film, we’re going to have those specific cheeses,” Gouyer said. “And then just sort of eat along with the movie, and the part where Remy is eating cheese with a strawberry or cheese with a grape, you’ll get to experience those in real-time — the 4D experience.”
The club also hopes to further build community by having cheese-themed Bigs (“Hard Cheeses”), Littles (“Soft Cheeses”) and Cheese Families.
Foltz and Gouyer see this plan as a great opportunity for those who want to experience the big-and-little dynamic without having to go through the more traditional routes of joining a fraternity or sorority, which require a significantly greater time commitment.
Gouyer also noted that the club plans to have dairy-free events for those who are lactose intolerant, and Foltz teased an end-of-semester “Cheeseout” week.
Looking ahead to next semester, the dates for cheese tastings and other events will be scheduled far in advance and posted on TribeLink to allow students to plan ahead.
Foltz explained that members who have paid dues can attend tastings without any additional fee; for non-members, there is a $3 fee to help cover the cost of the cheese, although it is possible that in the future some of that cost could potentially be subsidized by the Student Assembly, thus lowering tasting costs for students. Those interested in joining can either request membership through TribeLink or reach out to a member of the executive board.
Gouyer noted that the Cheese Club provides more than just cheese — those looking to find a community or try something new may find the club to be a great fit.
“[The Cheese Club is for] anyone who is looking for a way to be involved on campus but either doesn’t want to overcommit themselves or is apprehensive to certain aspects of different college areas of life — like if you want the community building, but you don’t want Greek life, or you don’t want something that’s super academically-minded or something that’s based exclusively on a major,” Gouyer said.
Foltz had a similar sentiment about how the club helps students foster community and discover opportunity.
“I think it really helps build community, and it provides an opportunity to students they likely otherwise wouldn’t have,” Foltz said. “They can get out of their class at 5:50 and then skip over to the cheese tasting, taste some cheese [and] be exposed to cheeses that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to — right here on campus.”
For fans of wordplay, the Cheese Club offers a final perk: an abundance of “cheesy” puns.