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Aging cheddar Web site cultivates a following

Story Highlights

• debuted in December
• Surfers can watch the 50-pound cheese as it ages
• After a year, the cheese will be auctioned off for charity
By Alphonso Van Marsh
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WESTCOMBE, England (CNN) -- Call it a cheesy publicity stunt, but one cheese maker's approach to bringing attention to a millenniums-old food-making practice has become an odd fascination on the Internet.

Since debuted in December, the Web site offering a live broadcast of a round slab of English cheddar cheese slowly maturing has had more than 1.2 million hits.

From a group of middle school students in Florida to a 32-year-old, self-described cheese freak in London, the increasingly moldy cheddar is cultivating cult status. (Watch how fans crave their cheddar vision Video)

"We sat around the table, wondering how we could get across to people how long it takes to produce a traditional cheese," said Tom Calvar, the 20-something cheese whiz from the dairy cooperative West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers, of which his family's farm is a member. "We thought, why not have a live webcam feed of it, just 24-7? And that's what we did."

The 23-kilogram, or about 50 pound, cheese lies on an upper-level shelf in a dank storage barn in Westcombe, about a three-hour drive southwest of London.

The celebrity cheese is one of some five thousand rounds of calcium-rich goo sealed in cheesecloth and lard and swirling with bacteria.

But this cheddar is the only one in the barn that has Mother Nature's slow aging process captured by a webcam fastened to a McGyver-esque concoction of wood planks, nails, a desk lamp and kite string.

"People from all over the world are e-mailing us about the cheese. Somebody has written lots of songs about. It has been invited to a wedding. We've had post cards sent to it," Calvar said.

Calvar and other artisan cheese makers on his family-managed farm turn the cheese about once a week to ensure it keeps its shape. Calvar says the star of will stay under the webcam's lens for about a year before it is auctioned off for charity.

If that's too long a time to gaze into dairy cyberspace, has a time-elapsed video of the cheese's first three months of life.

London-based mortgage broker Alan Johnson said he wouldn't mind getting a slice of the cheddar once its matured.

"Everyone would want to own a piece of that," Johnson said.

There's also a Web page dedicated to the cheddar, described as a single Capricorn according to its online profile.

"When I first saw the link to it, I think there were only 13 or 14 people listed as friends [of the cheddar]," Johnson said. Now there are more than 860 'friends' -- from New Zealand to New York -- who have pledged their love for the cheese.

Cheese purveyor Patricia Michelson admitted that she wished she'd thought of putting a webcam in her cheese storage room at her high-end London cheese shop, La Fromagerie.

"The fact is that most people think of cheese as being a little bit of yellow square in plastic wrap," she said.

"Actually seeing the real thing in its glory, from start to finish. Watching it, live, in real time, growing and growing its molds and getting darker and literally, slowly aging is a phenomenon," she added.

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