For This Tufts Club, Sweet Dreams Are Made of Cheese

With a focus on both fun and fermentation, a popular campus group proves that it’s ‘all gouda’   

When your last name means “cheese” in Italian, your mind remains ripe for dairy-related possibilities. So when Coby Formaggio, as a high school junior touring Tufts, heard mention that the university had once hosted a cheese club, it piqued his interest. 

“In the back of my head, the seed was planted—if I go to Tufts, it would be fun to restart the cheese club,” says Formaggio, A24. Four years after Formaggio arrived at Tufts, the revived cheese club is now one of the more popular undergraduate groups on campus, with activities that place as much emphasis on camaraderie as they do on Camembert. 

“We try to be very lighthearted,” says Michael Khela, A26.  “Everyone’s welcome.  We have vegan cheeses. We have Lactaid for people who can’t tolerate lactose. We have gluten-free crackers.” Khela and Trista Lee, A26, are co-presidents this academic year.

Arriving on the Hill in the fall of 2020, Formaggio and his classmates had to figure out how to craft a college experience in the era of social distancing. “It felt like there was not as much campus life as there could have been,” Formaggio says. “The cheese club was the solution to meeting more people.” 

Four students standing in front of a large cutout cow.

At the Cheese Ball, held in April in Sophia Gordon Hall, partygoers enjoyed having their photos taken with a large cow cutout created by Aliénor Rice, A24. Photo: Anna Miller

From the beginning, the intent was to make the club a tangible—rather than virtual—experience, says co-founder Aliénor Rice, A24. “Even when we had to social distance and wear masks, we would still find ways to bring people together in person while still respecting those guidelines,” she says. The club launched with activities that would extend over a four-hour period; students would attend in shifts, to accommodate the limits on gatherings.

In the fall of 2021, the group gained official status, which brought funds for cheese and activities. Aside from the core group of students who serve on the executive board (or CharcuteriEBoard, as they call it), there is no official membership roster; events over the past few years have drawn anywhere from 60 to 300 people. Close to 500 attended the annual Cheese Ball dance in Sophia Gordon Hall this past April, and the mailing list stretches—like well-made mozzarella—into the thousands. “Even directly before finals week, our meetings are packed,” Khela says.

“I don’t think any of us expected it to take off the way it did,” says Rice. “I think it’s because it caters to a very specific type of student that Tufts happens to have a lot of: a student who likes hanging out with friends, who's a little bit nerdy, a little bit of a foodie, and a little bit quirky, too.”

Activities, often in collaboration with other student groups, have included a tasting of vegan cheeses; a discussion about bloomy rinds with a scientist from the biology department’s Wolfe lab, which researches the microbiomes of fermented foods; and trips to the Eataly market in Boston. For Thanksgiving 2020, when students were encouraged to stay on campus to contain COVID exposure, the club delivered chunks of cheese carved with personalized messages. (In retrospect, “we should have put a limit on the character count,” Formaggio reflects.)

Students at a party in Sophia Gordon Hall

Close to 500 students turned out for the Cheese Club's annual Cheese Ball in Sophia Gordon Hall in April. Attendance at the dance has grown each year, organizers say. Photo: Anna Miller

“When I think of a college cheese club, I have this picture in my head of 12 people sitting around a table, trying cheese in silence,” says Formaggio. “That might be a great club, but that’s definitely not what this club is.” 

Not that these Tufts turophiles—that is, “cheese lovers”—are without enthusiasm for a wicked good Wensleydale or a superior Port Salut. Sometimes, things get philosophical: Is Kraft Mac and Cheese, cheese?  Do cheese slices count? Does processed cheese count? “We have these funny debates,” says Rice.

They wistfully mention the MIT Banana Lounge, which offers bananas—yes, they have nothing but bananas—to students seeking a break and a snack. “I dream of one day having a cheese room,” Khela jokes. “Well, not really.” But he does have a vision where the cheese club becomes well-aged, continuing to bring students together years into the future. “Some people don’t like cheese, and that’s perfectly OK,” he says. “Some people just like lasagna or cheesecake. There’s still always room for them.”

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