NEW YORK CITY – A New York gallery on Sunday offered adventurous eaters the opportunity to sample cheese made from human breast milk, getting mixed reviews and some puzzled looks.
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The Lady Cheese Shop is a temporary art installation by Miriam Simun, a graduate student at New York University who hopes to use the craft of cheese-making to raise questions about the ethics of modern biotechnologies.
"Cheese is the conversation starter," Simun said. "Some people are loving it, and some people are gagging."
Simun found three nursing women willing to have their milk turned into cheese. She screened the milk for diseases, pasteurized it and learned the basics of cheese-making.
Three varieties were available on Sunday — West Side Funk, Midtown Smoke, described as "creamy and just pure heaven," and Wisconsin Chew, the taste of which apparently reflected the vegetable-filled diet of the woman who provided its milk.
Jocelyn James, of Manhattan, who works with expectant mothers, declared her favorite was Midtown Smoke, which she said was mild. She described Wisconsin Chew as bland.
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"It's a lot healthier than cow's milk, which can be very suspicious," she said, although she conceded: "It does have a stigma."
Frances Anderson sampled the cheese while breast-feeding her infant son Luan.
"I'm an adventurous eater," she said. "I know more about the source of this food than going into a supermarket and picking up Cheddar cheese. I don't know what they pumped into that cow."
Passersby seemed perplexed.
"That there's so weird," said Cheryl Coleman, a neighbor walking by. "I love this neighborhood," she added.
Simun said she hoped her cheese will make people think about the various ways human bodies are used as "factories," producing blood, hair, sperm, eggs and organs that can all be harvested to be used by others.
And while the transfusion of human blood is a common practice, uses of human milk raise eyebrows.
Last year, a New York chef served diners at his restaurant cheese made from his wife's milk, and earlier this year an ice cream parlor in London began buying women's breast milk and turning it into frozen treats.
"You're putting it in your mouth," said Simun of human milk and the taboos around it. "There's something really visceral about that."