Poet James McIntyre: The Chaucer of Cheese

September 12, 2013

Raise your hand if you like cheese! Wow…if we are counting correctly, that’s millions and millions of people. Poet James McIntyre loved cheese. Here is his story, as published in Uncle John’s Funniest Ever Bathroom Reader.

The Chaucer of Cheese

Have you heard of one James McIntyre?
His unusual verses set the world afire.
Think of this while eating your Cheerios:
In the 1800s, he was the bard of southwestern Ontario. His work is published this day still,
If you read his poems, they’ll make you ill.

The Chaucer of Cheese: Poet James McIntyreABARD IS BORN

James McIntyre (1827–1906), known to his admirers as the “Chaucer of Cheese,” was born in the Scottish village of Forres. He moved to Canada when he was 14 and lived most of his life in Ingersoll, a small town in Ontario, where he worked as a furniture and coffin maker. But what earned him his reputation was his hobby—writing poetry. McIntyre wrote poems on a variety of topics: He described Ontario towns, saluted his favorite authors, and sang the praises of farming and country life. He even composed tributes to his furniture.


Most famously, he wrote poems to promote the local economy. And in the mid-1800s, the economy of southwestern Ontario was cheese. In 1866, for example, Ontario dairy farmers produced what was then the world’s largest block of cheese—it measured more than 21 feet across and weighed 7,300 pounds. The giant inspired two of McIntyre’s best-known poems: “Ode on the Mammoth Cheese” and “Prophesy of a Ten Ton Cheese.”

When the Toronto Globe printed some of his work, including such poems as “Oxford Cheese Ode,” “Hints to Cheesemakers,” “Dairy Ode,” and “Fa- ther Ranney, the Cheese Pioneer,” his fame spread across Canada and then around the world. What makes McIntyre’s poetry fun to read isn’t just his choice of subject matter (cheese) or his weird rhymes (pairing “fodder” with “cheddar,” or “shoes Norwegian” with “narrow toboggan”). “If you read his poetry, what comes out is his enthusiasm,” said Michael Hennessy, mayor of Ingersoll. “People might say they are terrible poems, but McIntyre was a trier, and that is a great quality in a writer.”


Giving new meaning to the term cheesy, many of McIntyre’s admirers argue that he, not Scotland’s infamous William McGonagall, deserves the title of World’s Worst Poet. But McGonagall’s fans steadfastly disagree. “McGonagall is by far the worst poet in the English language,” said Scottish poet Don Paterson. “He could write a bad poem about anything. This cheese guy may be a bad poet, but it seems he could write bad poetry about only one subject.”



A few excerpts from our favorite McIntyre poems:

“Hints to Cheesemakers”

All those who quality do prize

Must study color, taste and size,

And keep their dishes clean and sweet,

And all things round their factories neat,

For dairymen insist that these

Are all important points in cheese.

Grant has here a famous work

Devoted to the cure of pork,

For dairymen find it doth pay

To fatten pigs upon the whey,

For there is money raising grease

As well as in the making cheese.

“Dairy Ode”

Our muse it doth refuse to sing

Of cheese made early in the spring.

When cows give milk from spring fodder

You cannot make a good cheddar.

The quality is often vile

Of cheese that is made in April,

 Therefore we think for that reason

You should make cheese later in the season.

Cheese making you should delay

Until about the first of May.

Then cows do feed on grassy field

And rich milk they abundant yield.

Utensils must be clean and sweet

So cheese with first class can compete,

And daily polish up milk pans,

Take pains with vats and with milk cans.

And it is important matter

To allow no stagnant water,

But water from pure well or stream

The cow must drink to give pure cream.

Though ’gainst spring cheese some do mutter,

Yet spring milk also makes bad butter,

Then there doth arise the query How to utilize it in the dairy.

For more of McIntyre’s poems, see page 102 of Uncle John’s Funniest Ever Bathroom Reader.