Let me take you to the magical realm that is the 1990s of my youth. It’s OK. People were cool back then, you’ll see. Somewhere in that mythical land of boundless peak-capitalist optimism, not to mention actually the best music ever — feel free to try to debate me on this and run away screaming — we had something called a Cheezer.
The Cheezer — pronounced chay-zer or /t͡ʃeɪzər/ — was an advertisement for something you couldn’t buy. There was no shiny packet in the supermarket that read “Cheezer”. Instead, the ad was an instruction for how to make a Cheezer. The premise is simple: you take a small pita bread, slice it open, spread some jam in it — that’s ‘jelly’ for you Americans — add some slices of cheese, and then toast the whole thing. Before we get down to the why of it all, let’s take a look at the commercials.
As far as I know, there were two versions of the commercial, one starring a guy called Martin, and one with a young woman named Titia. Both were the pinnacle of attractiveness in the Netherlands of the 1990s, or at least, they were probably intended to be so.
Martin is so carefree and cool that his feet barely touch the ground. His hair and wardrobe seem to be lifted straight from Beverly Hills 90210. As a proper Dutchman, he introduces himself with the phrase “Hey! That’s me, man!” (yes, literally). Before slicing open his pita bread, he flings it through the air and catches it. He is so cool, he’s got graffiti on the walls of his apartment. When his Cheezer is in the toaster, he is visibly and audibly annoyed, because he has to wait for it to finish toasting. Martin is so cool that he hates waiting for anything, even something as good as a Cheezer. In the end, though, he finds his sandwich to be “errug lekker”. At the end of the commercial, an echoing voice-over asks us whether we’ve already joined the privileged group of people like Martin who’ve made a Cheezer for themselves.
Titia is a classic Dutch bombshell: long blond hair, big eyes, full red lips. She’s all business, as illustrated by her being on the phone behind her desk at the beginning of the commercial, but she needs a good snack every once in a while. While she’s preparing her Cheezer, there’s a lingering shot — by the standards of TV commercials — of her putting a slice of cheese in her mouth and licking her fingers. There is literally no Dutcher way of eroticising someone than this. She symbolises the act of waiting for her Cheezer to finish toasting (in the oven, this time) by pushing the minute hand of her clock ahead a few minutes. Magically, this advances time to when her Cheezer is done.
Two attractive, cool, enviable, young, white, people. Of course we all want to be like them (or eat them), so what should we do? Eat lots of delicious Cheezers, of course. All we need is pita, jam, cheese, and some time. Luck has it that we can get the first three at the supermarket.** My wife has an anecdote of how her local supermarket had arranged a veritable ‘Cheezer display’: a table where you could get all the ingredients without having to look for them all over the place. Like I said, a Cheezer is not a finished product: you buy the ingredients and bring about its creation through investment of your own labour. It is, however, marketed as a finished product: you’re not just making a cheese-and-jam toasted pita sandwich — no, you are making a Cheezer, which is far, far better.
This leads us to the question of who created the Cheezer. Since you could theoretically make a Cheezer out of ingredients from a plethora of (non-)brands, it is unlikely that there is a single company behind it. Now, commercials for an entire food group rather than a single brand are not unheard of in the Netherlands: we’ve had ads for in abstracto chicken, bread, milk, meat, etc. However, a Cheezer is not just one thing: it is an assemblage of foods. One of the commercials has been uploaded to YouTube by an account called Nederlandse Zuivel Organisatie [Dutch Dairy Organisation], which suggests that this organisation was behind the campaign. If this is the case, producers of pita bread and jam must have thrown a humongous a party. Free marketing! Or, perhaps the campaign was a joint effort by the overarching organisations of dairy, bread, and jam — a secret cabal to take the midday snack market by storm. If so, it might be one of the rare cases of joint marketing of products without involving particular brands, at least that I’m aware of.
Whatever the truth may be, the Cheezer itself remains elusive. The platonic ideal of the Cheezer exists still, in the heads of 90s kids like me. But are Cheezers still made? Do they actually exist unless someone makes one? I can’t for the life of me recall if I ever made a Cheezer myself. If I did, it probably wasn’t particularly errug lekker, or I would still be making them regularly.
But the concept of the Cheezer has haunted me for all these years. Perhaps it’s the snappy music and the garish colours that remind me of a carefree youth. It could be the mystery of whence the Cheezer originated. Or maybe the fact that someone bothered to make commercials for a product that doesn’t technically exist. Maybe it’s all of these things.
Maybe it’s something else. The animated Cheezer resembles a Pac-Mannish though eyeless cheese-chomping smiley face: the pita its skin and teeth, the jam its reddish maw — although the latter isn’t actually part of the animation; what an oversight! In itself, the Cheezer — and its lieutenants Martin and Titia — are a metaphor for a kind of Dutchness: blind, impatient, narcissistic… and fond of cheese.
Perhaps the Cheezer was never meant to be made; it could have merely been a mirror held up to an audience ravenous for new things to devour. We may never be sure. One question remains, particularly for those of you who are too young and/or non-Dutch to have ever experienced the Cheezer in its historical context: heb jij er al één gemaakt? Let me know if it tastes good.
This article was supported by the generous contributors to my Patreon. Though they might not entirely have seen this one coming.