Digitized Exhibit: The Gendered Cultures of Beer and Cheese: the Regulation of Human and Microbial Bodies on the Home and Industrial Scales, 1616 - 2017

Did you miss the exhibition, "The Gendered Cultures of Beer and Cheese: the Regulation of Human and Microbial Bodies on the Home and Industrial Scales, 1616 - 2017?"

The exhibition ran from September 11- October 2, 2017 at McGill University's McIntyre Medical Building Osler Library of the History of Medicine. We were pleased to welcome over __ people at our vernissage on the evening of Friday September 29th.

In case you were unable to attend the exhibition, I have included the text from the posters, photographs of the displays, excerpts from my speech at the vernissage, and the bibliography below.


Welcome to "The Gendered Cultures of Beer and Cheese: the Regulation of Human and Microbial Bodies on the Home and Industrial Scales.” This exhibition, comprised of medical texts, cookbooks, training manuals, and industry documents, showcases the ways in which advice about best fermentation practices has changed over time. As you visit the now digital exhibition, I hope you will consider the following questions: How is the language employed around ideas of public health, food, and alcohol production gendered and classed? Are ideas about "what is safe" and "what is dangerous" regarding fermentation practices restricted to scientific understanding? To what degree are these ideas socially embedded concepts?

The materials for this exhibit come from McGill University’s Osler Library of the History of Medicine; Rare Books and Special Collections; the Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering; the MacDonald Campus Library; the Blackader-Lauterman Collection of Architecture and Art; and the private collection of Alex Ketchum.

This exhibit has been made possible by the generous support of McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine; the Institute of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies; the Department of History and Classical Studies; the Department of English; and the Office of the Vice Principal’s Research and Innovation Grant.

We are pleased to offer this exhibit as part of this fall’s conference, “Leavening the Conversation: Food, Feminism, and Fermentation.” The event will be taking place on McGill’s campus from September 29- October 1st. In addition to the above sponsors, the larger event is also sponsored by Le Réseau québécois en études féministes of L'Université du Québec à Montréal, Concordia University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, PGSS, Concordia University’s Centre for Sensory Studies, and the University of Alabama’s Department of Gender and Race Studies.

For more information: https://www.mcgill.ca/library/channels/event/exhibition-gendered-cultures-beer-and-cheese-regulation-human-and-microbial-bodies-home-and-270061 

Curated by Alex Ketchum, PhD candidate, Department of History and Classical Studies

For Osler Library of the History of Medicine's opening hours, please click here.


I just wanted to give a little bit of backstory about this exhibition. The reason we are all here tonight has to do with a single book in this exhibition: Catherine Parr Traill’s Female Emigrant’s Guide. In the winter of 2013 during a master’s seminar on the British Empire, Elizabeth Elbourne asked her class to peruse this iconic work. All I could think of at the time was how much I wanted to try out some of these recipes—especially making bread with barm (the foamy stuff at the top of your fermentation bucket when you are making beer). Well in order to do so, I would have to learn to make beer— so I solicited the help of some friends and soon became a homebrewer. I kept referencing Traill’s directions on how to clean the barm, to get the proper flavour. This fun experiment led to the creation of the historical cooking project website, as well as a new series of side projects looking at fermentation in history.

Fermentation comes up in history both in cookbooks and medical guides. It passes in and out of discussions of science, housework, domesticity, business and the law. And these discussions are gendered, classed, and racialized.

Debates around the healthfulness of fermentation practices are not restricted to nutritional science. Rather, in a kind of Foucauldian necropolitical/ biopower way, the ideas about what makes fermentation healthy has as much to do with nutritional content as to do with ideas about who are healthy citizens and what are healthy gender roles. This brings up questions of who should be fermenting? who should be making money from the practices? Whose knowledge about fermentation is seen as valid? And how is this knowledge regulated and validated. Which institutions are involved?
The answers to those questions changes over time and place.

Producing and consuming fermented products is about, pardon the pun, culture.
So please enjoy the exhibit and consuming these fermented products.


Poster # 2 (poster # 1 just welcomed people)

Fermentation is the metabolic process that converts sugar to acids, alcohol, or gases.

In food and drink processing, fermentation is the process of converting carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids using microorganisms—yeasts or bacteria—under anaerobic conditions.

Fermentation is responsible for much of the food and drink we enjoy on a daily basis. Without fermentation we would not be able to enjoy alcoholic drinks like beer, wine, cider, vodka, tequila, and more. Without this process we wouldn’t have cheese or the bread to place it on. Yogurt, sauerkraut, vinegar, olives, pickles, kimchi, miso, tempeh, soy sauce, kefir, and kombucha are made through fermentation. Even coffee and chocolate are fermented foods!

While fermentation is a naturally occurring process, for thousands of years, humans across cultures have harnessed the power of fermentation to develop flavors and preserve foods.

This exhibit focuses on two popular fermented products: beer and cheese. The texts come from England, France, the United States of America, and Canada.

Poster # 3

Ideas about who was allowed to make beer and whose knowledge about beer was considered legitimate have changed over time and place.

In Medieval Europe, beer brewing was a household activity. While by the 14th and 15th centuries, pubs and monasteries began to brew for mass consumption, brewing was still primarily a task done by women.

European women continued to make beer through the 16th and 17th centuries until beer production industrialized.  Men took over brewing activities when money was to be made in the sale of beer.

Increasingly in the 18th century, women were blocked from the business of brewing and were restricted to the role of barmaids or "publicans", licensees running pubs. During this same period, female brewers were depicted as either witches or as incapable of brewing. Expert knowledge about beer production then shifted from the feminine to masculine domain.

Poster # 4

When Europeans immigrated to Canada and settled into rural areas devoid of an established beer industry, brewing again became primarily the responsibility of women. Immigrant guides, such as Catherine Parr Traill’s Female Emigrants Guide (1855), which were directed at female settlers, explained that brewing was a household responsibility, coupled with bread-making.

While on the frontier women were the primary beer makers, in settlements such as Montreal and Quebec a few men attempted for over a century to industrialize Canadian beer. One of the first commercial attempts was the establishment of Louis Prud'homme’s brewery in 1650 near Fort Ville Marie. However, the venture was financially unsuccessful. In 1667, Jean Talon, the first appointed Intendant of New France, received royal permission to begin a brewery in Quebec, which he named La Brasserie du Roy. However, it was not until John Molson began selling beer in Montreal in 1786 and established Molson Brewery, that beer became a truly industrialized process in Canada.

Poster # 5

By the 1970s, most Canadian beer production was on the industrial scale and dominated by three companies: Molson, Labatt, and Carling O’Keefe. Industry guides during this period were directed at an assumed male audience.

The craft beer and home brewing revolutions in the last third of the 20th century led to the publication of numerous home beer making guides. The guides, however, were written with an intended male readership, and were sometimes filled with sexist jokes. Now in the 21st century, a few authors have written home-brew books with an assumed female or gender neutral audience. Although men continue to dominate the beer industry, more and more women have risen to roles of master-brewers, founders of breweries, and other positions of power within the beer industry.

As evidenced by the texts in this exhibition, when the responsibility of who is in charge of making beer shifts, the language in the texts shifts as well. When women were responsible for brewing, women writers wrote guides proffering advice for home-brewing. Just before beer making would move to the industrial level, so called “men of science” or “experts” would call into question women’s brewing practices under the guise of safety and health. When men controlled brewing processes, authors described men’s relationship with beer as natural. Although fermentation is a naturally occurring process and there is nothing inherently gendered about making beer (or even consuming beer!), the texts in this exhibition show how the gendering of the process of producing beer correlated with the economic power that could be derived from that process.

Cheese Poster

“To the housewives of Canada who believe with us that it is better to obtain the essential food elements…,” cheese is the best!

The introduction of “Cheese, the Ideal Food : Healthful, Nutritious, Economical, Many delicious Ways to Serve It” sought to convince Canadian housewives that, as the title states, cheese was the ideal food. Over forty years later, the party planning guide “Parties with Personality: the Party Booklet in the Canadian way” (1966) emphasized how much fun could be had if Canadians mixed beer and cheese.

Cheese is made by coagulation of the milk protein casein. While the earliest evidence in the archaeological record of cheese-making dates to 5500 BCE, some theories suggest that humans were producing cheese as early as 8000 BCE.  There are hundreds of varieties of cheese.

For the collection of texts in this case, cheese and ideas of health intersect primarily in two ways. The first way is in the guides that describe how to produce cheese in a  “safe” and “healthy” manner on both the home and industrial scale. Whether from the 17th or the 21st century, the second group of texts attempts to convince an assumed female audience that cheese is a healthy choice to serve their families.

Beer and cheese certainly pair well together!



Louis Pasteur. Etudes sur la bière, ses maladies causes qui les provoquent, procédé pour la rendre inaltérable, avec une théorie nouvelle de la fermentation. Gauthier-Villars, 1876. Osler Library Collection.

Louis Pasteur, Frank Faulkner, and David Constable Robb. Studies on Fermentation: The Diseases of Beer, Their Causes, and the Means of Preventing Them. A Translation, Made with the Author's Sanction, of Études Sur la Bière; with Notes, Index, and Original Illustrations. Macmillan, 1879. Osler Library Collection

Theophilus Nicholas Kelynack and William Kirkby. Arsenical Poisoning in Beer Drinkers. Baillière, Tindall and Cox, 1901. Osler Library Collection.

Le Thresor de santé, ou, Mesnage de la vie humaine : divisé en dix livres lesquels traictent amplement de toutes sortes de viandes & breuvages, ensemble de leur qualité & preparation, 1616. Osler Library Collection.

Anthony Florian Madinger Willich. Lectures on Diet and Regimen: Being a Systematic Inquiry Into the Most Rational Means of Preserving Health and Prolonging Life: Together with Physiological and Chemical Explanations, Calculated Chiefly for the Use of Families, in Order to Banish the Prevailing Abuses and Prejudices in Medicine. T. and J. Swords, 1799. Osler Library Collection.

Robert Kemp Philp. The Housewife's Reason Why: According to the Manager of Household Affairs Intelligible Reasons for the Various Duties She Has to Perform. London: Houlston & Wright, 1857. Osler Library Collection.

The Adulteration of Food: Conferences by the Institute of Chemistry on Monday and Tuesday, July 14th and 15th : Food Adulteration and Analysis. London: International Health Exhibition. 1884. Osler Library Collection.

Louis Pasteur. Études sur le Vin: ses maladies, causes qui les provoquent, procédés nouveaux pour le conserver et pour le viellir. A l'imprimerie Imperiale, 1866. Osler Library Collection.

California Wine Advisory Board. Uses of Wine in Medical Practice : a summary. 1965. Osler Library Collection.      

Edward Holyoke Farrington and Fritz Wilhelm Woll. Testing Milk and Its Products: a Manual for Dairy Students, Creamery and Cheese Factory Operators, Food Chemists and Dairy Farmers. Vol. 1. Mendota Book Company, 1904. Osler Library Collection.     
Eduard von Freudenreich. Dairy Bacteriology, a Short Manual: For the Use of Students in Dairy Schools, Cheese-makers and Farmers. London, 1895. Osler Library Collection.         

Thomas Tyron. The Good House-Wife Made a Doctor; Or, Health's Choice and Sure Friend, Being a Plain Way of Nature's Own Prescribing, to Prevent and Cure Most Diseases, Etc. 1982. Osler Library Collection.


Catherine Parr Strickland Traill. The Canadian Settler's Guide. Printed at the Office of the Toronto Times, 1857. Rare Books and Special Collections.

License to Keep a Common Public-House or Victualling House, and to Utter and Sell by Retail Victuals, Beer, Ale, Cider, Wine and Spirituous Liquors. Newfoundland, 1810. Rare Books and Special Collections.

Louis-Charles-Alphonse Angers. Les recettes pour bières, porters, vins, cidres, liqueurs, etc.: procédés faciles de fabrication à la maison. Quebec: J.-E. Belanger, 1919. Rare Books and Special Collections.

Harold J. Grossman. Grossman's Guide to Wines, Spirits, and Beers. New York: Scribner, 1955. Rare Books and Special Collections.

Submission by Brewers Association of Canada to the Royal Commission on Taxation. 1964. Rare Books and Special Collections.

Kenneth Hill. Beer for Beginners. Toronto: Mills & Boon, 1972. Rare Books and Special Collections.

Parties with Personality: the Party Booklet in the Canadian way. Ottawa: Brewers Association of Canada,1966. Rare Books and Special Collections.

Lilian Lucas. Cooking with Home-made Wine and Mead. London : Mills & Boon, 1971. Rare Books and Special Collections.

Marcel L. Beaulieu, Les recettes à la bière des grandes cuisines Molson. Montréal : Éd. de l'Homme,1969. Rare Books and Special Collections.

Kraft Foods Company. Cheese, the Ideal Food: Healthful, Nutritious, Economical, Many Delicious Ways to Serve It. Montreal: Kraft MacLaren Cheese Co., 1920. Rare Books and Special Collections.


Edward H. Vogel. The Practical Brewer : a Manual for the Brewing Industry. New York : Master Brewers Association of America, 1947. Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering.

James Richard Allan Pollock. Brewing Science. V. 3. New York : Academic Press, 1979. Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering.

James Richard Allan Pollock. Brewing Science. V. 1. New York : Academic Press, 1979. Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering.

Barry H Gump and David J Pruett. Beer and Wine Production : Analysis, Characterization, and Technological Advances. Washington, DC : American Chemical Society, 1993. Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering.

Charles Bamforth. Beer: Tap into the Art and Science of Brewing. Oxford University Press, 2009. Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering.

R. Douglas Bailey. The Brewer's Analyst. Applewood Books, 2008.Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering.

Mark Denny. Froth!: the Science of Beer. JHU Press, 2009. Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering.

Charles W. Bamforth. Beer: Health and Nutrition. John Wiley & Sons, 2004. Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering.

Chris Boulton and David Quain. Brewing Yeast and Fermentation. Oxford, 2001. Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering.

William A Hardwick. Handbook of brewing. New York: M. Dekker, 1995. Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering.

George Fix. Principles of Brewing Science. Boulder, Colo., USA : Brewers Publications, 1989. Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering.

D. E. Briggs, J. S. Hough, R. Stevens, and T. W. Young. Malting and Brewing Science, Vol. 1: Malt and Sweet Wort. 1981. Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering.

Ian Hornsey. Brewing. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2013. Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering.


Maurice E. Schwartz. Cheese-making Technology. Noyes Data Corp, 1973. MacDonald Campus Library.

Andre Eck and J-C. Gillis. Cheesemaking: From Science to Quality Assurance. No. Ed. 2. Intercept Limited, 2000. MacDonald Campus Library.

J-P Ramet. The Technology of Making Cheese From Camel Milk (Camelus dromedarius). No. 113. Food & Agriculture Org., 2001. MacDonald Campus Library.


John J. Palmer. How to Brew. Brewers Publications, 2006. Private collection.

Sandor Ellix Katz. The Art of Fermentation: an In-depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes From Around the World. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012. Private collection.

Sandor Ellix Katz. Wild fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-culture Foods. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016.Private collection.

Emma Christensen. True Brews: How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Mead, Kefir, and Kombucha at Home. Potter, 2013. Private Collection. 

Randy Mosher. Radical Brewing: Recipes, Tales and World-Altering Meditations in a Glass. Brewers Publications, 2004. Private Collection.

Mary Karlin and Ed Anderson. Artisan Cheese Making at Home: Techniques & Recipes for Mastering World-Class Cheeses. Potter, 2011. Private Collection.


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