Where did the “moon made of cheese” myth come from?

There are plenty of cheesy pop culture references out there. Plenty of kids under five years of age still believe the moon is made of cheese – but where did that myth come from?

The cheesy moon fable, proverb, and pop culture

The Fox and the Wolf fable

An old Serbian tale tells of a fox who tells a wolf that the reflection of the moon in a lake is a delicious wheel of cheese. The wolf tries to drink up all the water to get to the cheese, but he can’t fit all the water, so he bursts.

This story is first recorded in literature in the High Middle Ages (circa 1000-1300 AD), but the author, French Rabbi Rashi, says the story came from Rabbi Meir in the Talmudic era. The Spanish Jew Petrus Alphonsi then made the story famous in his collection of fables, Disciplina Clericalis. The story was later recorded in French and translated into English as “The Fox and the Wolf”.

Proverb of the century

In 1546, The Proverbs of John Heywood said:

Ye fetch circumquaques to make me beleeve,
Or thinke, that the moone is made of a greene cheese

The author was saying that someone was trying to trick him into something, not specifically that the moon was made of green cheese. But the saying stuck, and “the moon is made of green cheese” became one of the most popular proverbs in English literature from the 1500s and 1600s.

In 1638, English philosopher John Wilkins said, “You may … soon persuade some country peasants that the moon is made of greene cheese, (as we say).”

Modern pop culture references to cheese

  • 1843: Charles Dickens starts the rumour that eating cheese before bed will give you bad dreams, by having Ebenezer Scrooge tell one of the ghosts, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” Interestingly, this rumour is a myth – the amino acid found in milk and cheese, tryptophan, actually helps produce serotonin, which promotes smooth sleep and reduces stress.
  • 1940s: In a Justice Society of America comic book, one villain sends Johnny Thunder on “impossible taks” including getting green cheese from the moon – and Johnny succeeds!
  • 1961: In the book The Phantom Tollbooth, “The moon is made of cheese” is one of the half-baked cookies produced by the bakery.
  • 1967: In the Tom and Jerry short film O-Solar Meow, Tom blasts Jerry to the moon and Jerry just sits up there happily eating cheese.
  • 1968: In Italo Calvino’s short story collection Cosmicomics, ‘The Distance of the Moon’ shows people going to the moon to collect “moon milk”, which apparently tastes cheesy and delicious.
  • 1969: When Apollo 11’s landing was on TV screens in British homes, the ad breaks were devoted to answering the question, “But what if it’s made of cheese?”
  • 1989: In Disney’s Nintendo video game DuckTales, Uncle Scrooge has to get a chunk of “Green Cheese of Longevity” from the moon.
  • 1990: In A Grand Day Out, Wallace and Gromit want some cheese and crackers for a snack, but they’ve run out and all the stores are shut. So they build a rocket to go to the moon because, as Wallace says, “Everyone knows the moon’s made of cheese.”
  • 2000s: If you zoomed right in on Google Moon (the companion site to Google Earth), it used to show you a Swiss cheese-like terrain. They later created the images necessary to show a high resolution at maximum zoom on the site.
  • 2002: As an April Fool’s Day joke, NASA announced that by analysing new Hubble photographs, they had been able to work out the expiration or sell-by date of the moon. They showed photos “proving” that it was in fact made of green cheese.

Why mice actually hate cheese

cinderella cheeseIf you’ve ever seen Disney’s Cinderella, you’ll know all about little Gus, the mouse who cannot stop stuffing his face with cheese. But it’s just not true!

And putting a chunk of cheddar in a mouse trap will not solve the problem of mice co-habitating with you.

The Manchester Metropolitan University did a study in 2006 about how food could attract or repel animals. The researchers found that mice were repelled by most types of cheese, because their noses are so sensitive that they can be overwhelmed by strong odours. They would only eat the cheese if they were at danger of starvation. Mice normally chose to eat grains or foods that were high in sugar.

So next time you need to trap little Gus, put some rice or a donut in a box – not some Brie.

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