It may not surprise you to learn people are getting hooked on an addictive Wisconsin export. But it might surprise you to learn that export is cheese.

In his book “The Cheese Trap,” doctor and author Neal Barnard argues that America is addicted to cheese. He says giving up cheese would help Americans lose weight and improve their health. Needless to say, Barnard will be stopped at the border if he attempts to enter Wisconsin.

Barnard grew up in North Dakota, no doubt in a household stocked with colored oleomargarine, a once-banned product Cheeseheads now begrudgingly accept. He says cheese is loaded with calories and sodium, and has more cholesterol than a steak. Apparently we are supposed to think all this is bad. But steak and salt are awesome, and as for calories, well, most of us aren’t posing for underwear ads anytime soon, so bring ‘em on!

The book delves into the addictive nature of cheese, which contains casein, a protein with opiate molecules built in. This makes cheese dangerous, not unlike Wisconsin’s other top export, which is of course serial killers. Wait, no, I meant beer.

Brewskis go down like mother’s milk for many a Wisconsinite. Barnard says consumers’ hankering for a hunk of cheese begins with infancy. When babies nurse, opiates in the milk reward them. When we eat cheese, we take in concentrated amounts of those same molecules.

Barnard isn’t the only one who has warned against the dangers of cheese. My nine loyal readers may recall that in a 2015 study, University of Michigan researchers found the casein in cheese stimulates cravings by triggering the brain’s opioid receptors. As much as we’d like to disregard any assertion made by Michiganders, who are of course not to be trusted – they stole the Upper Peninsula from us, doncha know – their findings certainly would explain the behavior one witnesses at Lambeau Field. Call it a curd mentality.

Subjects were asked to identify the foods they crave, and scientists quickly found a common ingredient. You guessed it: Asparagus. Just kidding, it was cheese. Researchers noted that while milk contains only a tiny dosage of casein, 10 pounds of it are used to produce a pound of cheese.

You start out with a few nibbles: “Just a taste,” the grocer says, “First one’s on me.” The next thing you know, you’re strung out, loitering outside Sargento and begging for a hit of colby.

The study’s authors used their findings to identify a potential cause of addictive eating, and to call for public policy initiatives regarding the marketing of cheese to children. “Hey, kids: Cheese is no gouda for you!”

Theirs is an uphill battle. They’re like Sisyphus, pushing a cheddar wheel up a mountainside. After all, the average person eats 35 pounds of cheese each year. And that’s just average people. No doubt Wisconsinites, who tend to be above average, consume considerably more than that. I bet 100 pounds are eaten at the Chuck E. Cheese in Green Bay every Tuesday.

Like the Michigan researchers, the author Barnard is going to have a hard time convincing Americans to give up cheese. His message certainly will fall on deaf ears in America’s Dairyland, where we love things that aren’t good for us. We live for beer and sausage. We swung for Trump. Half of us die ice fishing and snowmobiling. We’re about as worried about our cholesterol as we are an alien invasion.

Plus, we might note that the National Dairy Council responded to Barnard’s claims by saying consuming cheese in moderation can be part of a healthy eating plan. After all, the only way most of us eat vegetables, other than at gunpoint, is to slather them with melted cheese.

Unfortunately, consuming things in moderation tends not to be Wisconsinites’ strong suit. We’ve been known to take a second drink. And when it comes to cheese, we don’t just eat it: We wear it.

Call us addicts if you like, we don’t care. Besides, we can hardly hear you over the squeak of fresh cheese curds against our teeth.

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Ben Bromley writes for the Baraboo News-Republic.


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