Coon cheese is named after its American creator, Edward William Coon (1871–1934) of Philadelphia, who patented a method, subsequently known as the Cooning process, for fast maturation of cheese via high temperature and humidity. Former manufacturer Kraft, and later Dairy Farmers and National Foods, have vigorously defended the trademark.
E. W. Coon was the grandson of Amherst Coon (1795–1877), a farmer born in Russia, New York, who married Sally Betsey Treat in 1822. His sons Mattison (b. 1823) and Ephraim Coon (b. 1832) were described in 1893 as having been in the butter and cheese business together at 29 South Water Street, Philadelphia, for more than thirty years. Ephraim's son Edward Willie Coon was born on July 30, 1871, and had taken out at least one cheese patent by 1912.
In August 1923, The Journal and Republican of Lowville, New York, reported the sale by "E. W. Coon of Philadelphia, maker and shipper of cheese", of five milk plants in villages around Watertown to the Dairymen's League Co-operative Association, Inc. It also stated that
While no announcement is made as to which of the numerous Coon plants in northern New York have been bought by the League, it is understood that the big Cape Vincent plant is not among those transferred... The Coon chain of plants include stations at Brownville, Chaumont, Rosiere, Cape Vincent, Clayton and La Fargeville, with several cheese factories in the surrounding territory... Mr Coon's business has been cheese making primarily...
On 27 February 1926 Coon filed an application for a Process for Ripening Cheese. Patent No 1579196 was issued on 30 March 1926. Coon's patent claimed:
- A process for ripening cheese, consisting of supplying, through suitable means, humidified air to a room or chamber set aside for the purpose, the humidified air to have a range of temperature from 45° to 75° F., and a moisture percentage of from 65% to 95%.
- A process for ripening cheese having an original moisture percentage of 36% to 40% and subjecting it to a temperature of 55° F., to 70° F., in combination with a humidity percentage of from 75% to 90%.
From 1933 a cheese was marketed by Fred Walker as Red Coon, and was coated with red wax. The wax was later replaced with cellophane and the red stripe in the logo is a residual reference to the original packaging.
After selling his processing plants, Edward W. Coon became a cheese dealer in Philadelphia. He died in 1934, aged sixty-two.
The accuracy of the account of the origin of the brand name has been challenged by anti-racism campaigner Stephen Hagan. In spite of much contrary evidence, Hagan claims he has been unable to find evidence that Edward Coon was a famous cheese maker, contending that the name came instead from a black wraparound in which it was originally sold. In 2008 he was reported to be "questioning the makers of Coon cheese about the origin of the brand name". Hagan claimed that Edward Coon was an obscure factory hand who was induced to subscribe his name to the patent for cheese manufacture, yet had no explanation for Edward Coon's ownership of many dairy factories.
In popular culture
- Coon Cheese – The Full Coon Story at coon.com.au
- "Abstract from Process for ripening cheese". US Patent 1,579,196. Google Patents.
- Reports of the Tax Court of the United States, vol. 21 (1954), p. 543: "Among the assets acquired from Coon was United States Patent No. 1,579,196, issued to Edward William Coon on March 30, 1926. The patent covered a process for curing cheddar cheese at specified ranges of temperature and humidity."
- Lucius Lincoln Van Slyke, Walter Van Price, Cheese: a treatise on the manufacture of American Cheddar cheese and some other varieties (New York: Orange Judd Publishing Company Inc., 1952 edition) p. 296: "He cited the process patented by Coon (1926) for producing the black, wax-coated cheese which was known in the trade as 'Coon Cheese'."
- Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, vol. 181 (1912), p. 535: "Coon, Edward W., Philadelphia, Pa. Cheese. No. 87857".
- John Harvey Treat, The Treat family: a genealogy of Trott, Tratt, and Treat for fifteen generations, and four hundred and fifty years in England and America (1893) (pp. 319-320)
- 'League Buys Five Plants in Jefferson County', in The Journal and Republican of Lowville dated August 30, 1923, online
- Coon, Edward William (30 Mar 1926). "Process for Ripening Cheese" (PDF). Patent No 1579196. United States Patent Office. Retrieved 23 Jan 2013.
- National Butter and Cheese Journal, vol. 25 (1934), p. 27: "Edward W. Coon, 62, prominent cheese dealer of Philadelphia, Pa., and Capp Vincent, NY, died suddenly January 12, at Philadelphia following a heart attack. Before becoming a cheese dealer, Mr. Coon owned a string of 14 cheese factories in Jefferson County, NY".
- "Activist is hunting for cheese". The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia). 27 September 2008. p. 2.
- The racist name blame game dated 24 October 2008 at abc.net.au
- Stephen K. Amos live show at youtube.com