Dozens Flock to East Village Gallery for Breast Milk Cheese
By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
EAST VILLAGE — Don't have a cow.
That's the message from a graduate student who's been crafting cheese out of women's breast milk.
Miriam Simun's freaky fromage foray drew hordes of curious visitors wanting to sample the mammary-made oddity at a tasting Thursday night at an Avenue C art gallery.
"Human Cheese," the art project/social experiment conceived by Simun, featured a trio of cheeses created with the help of three moms who agreed to offer up their breast milk for mass consumption.
And there was a line out the door of people willing to try it.
"I was expecting the taste to be different [but] the taste is still lingering in my mouth," said Molly Moser, 24, of Brooklyn, who sampled each of the cheeses.
"I've been looking forward to it all week."
Simun transformed the Michael Mut Gallery into "The Lady Cheese Shop" for the event, and recently held similar tastings in Chelsea and Brooklyn, with the goal of exposing people to the seemingly-taboo experience of consuming breast milk.
"I didn't expect the response," said Simun, 26, who is pursuing the project as part of her studies at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.
Simun said she's just trying to spark a discussion.
"My job is not to encourage people [to eat the cheese] at all," she said. "This is a question: Would you want to eat it? ... It's really about the conversation."
A Chelsea chef made headlines last year for making cheese out of his wife's breast milk and serving it to diners, triggering a public furor and a slap from the city.
"It is not intended for adults, or for wide public consumption," read a statement from the Department of Health, which does not have any rules regarding the practice but nonetheless discourages it. "Any health risks from breast milk depend on the health of the lactating woman."
Simun worked with a chef, Sarah Hymanson, to pair the cheeses with complementary foods to create a total culinary experience.
Eaters got to sample "Midtown Smoke," a ricotta-style cheese made with milk from a Midtown mom who enjoys eating sweets and spicy foods, imbuing the final product with a smoky, musky flavor, Simun said.
An aged blue cheese, or "West Side Funk," originated from a Chelsea mom who eats a lot of meat and drinks booze, lending the cheese a pungent tanginess, according to the description.
And the mozzarella-style offering, "Wisconsin Chew," came from a woman living in the cheese-centric Midwestern state who maintains a mostly organic diet, providing a creamier texture.
The breast milk, which was tested for diseases and pasteurized, was mixed with goat and cow milk to help with coagulation, and then paired with items like bacon oat crackers and crystallized ginger.
"Everything that passes through the body comes out in the breast milk," said Simun.
Dozens of guests indulged in the free samples at the gallery, near East 7th Street.
"I thought that it was going to be a bigger deal, but emotionally I'm unscarred, and taste-wise I'm unimpressed," said Lauren Kolesinskas, 24, of Brooklyn, who heard about the exhibition online.
"I thought it was going to awaken primal urges."
Others felt the cheeses didn't stand out as much as they had hoped.
"I thought they were trying to hide the cheese with the pairings," said Hagan Blount, 31, of the Lower East Side, who authors the food blog Wandering Foodie. "The ricotta's pretty well-developed. That's a nice one."
Simun was inspired to hold the tastings last year after finding a woman online who was looking to sell her breast milk. She then struck up relationships with each of the participants, learning about their personal and professional habits to see how it would affect the flavors.
For instance, the Midtown mom is a self-described workaholic, so her milk ended up being thinner than the others, Simun said. It's not clear why.
"I have personal relationships with these women, which affects how you experience the cheese," said Simun, who included photos of the women's living spaces at the exhibition, as well as audio and video recordings of them speaking about the project.
She approached gallery owner Mut about the four-day exhibition, which ends Sunday, only a couple weeks ago, and he jumped at the chance to host the provocative show.
"Most people are disgusted," he said. "Why? You eat cow milk. Human milk is more natural. You ate it as a child."
However, some visitors thought the hype surrounding the tasting exceeded the actual experience.
"I think the whole concept is a disgusting contrivance," said Tyler, 29, of the East Village, who called the event a "spectacle."
"It didn't taste any different than any other kind of cheese."
Moser, his friend, agreed.
"The experience of eating it wasn't as strange as I thought it would be," she said. "I see it more as a novelty, but that's why I'm here."
Blount joked that it's only a matter of time before human cheese hits the mainstream.
"I'll be looking for it in Whole Foods," he said.