It looks like we’re kicking around ol’ Richard Nixon’s name once again as of late. There’s another noted meatloaf lover in the Oval Office (and of course that’s the only parallel between the two POTUSes, period). Donald J. Trump’s near-fetishistic devotion to his mother Mary McLeod’s recipe made headlines last week when he decided that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie needed to bridge the gaps in his meatloaf appreciation, and decided that the two of them would hunker down over plates of it at the White House while the rest of the party ate what they pleased. Normal!
Not since the Nixon era has such a devotee of meatloaf strode the halls of the presidential residence (occasionally in a bathrobe). The Obamas got all fussy with their backyard vegetables and carefully-regimented almond consumption, Presidents Clinton and Bush the Second went all-in on some greasy cheeseburgers (the former eats mostly vegan these days and PETA is actively trying to sway the latter), and Ronald Reagan stanned for hamburger soup. But Nixon’s fondness for the homey dish was the stuff of great interest from the public, to the point that the White House eventually printed his wife Pat Nixon’s meatloaf recipe on White House stationery to send out to people inundating the office with requests for it.
Unclear, however, is the number of United States citizens who wrote in clamoring for details on his other favorite dish: cottage cheese drizzled with ketchup. For breakfast. Probably.
I say “probably” because there are slightly varying accounts—not of Nixon's fondness for cottage cheese, because that was well-documented, but of his favorite toppings for it and the hour of the consumption. The official Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum’s website notes as a fun fact for kids that, “President Nixon's favorite breakfast usually consisted of cottage cheese (garnished with either ketchup and/or black pepper), fresh fruit, wheat germ, and coffee. President Nixon also enjoyed yogurt, which was flown in from California every day.” Seems pretty official, no?
A story called "How Nixon Lives, What He Likes," written by Marie Smith in the Washington Post when Nixon was president-elect in 1969, corroborates the unorthodox combo ("[Nixon] likes ketchup on his cottage cheese but his favorite food is meat loaf"), but shifts the dining timeline a little. Smith writes, “His breakfast is served by Fina Sanchez, wife of Manolo, both Castilians who came to New York via Cuba and live in the servants' quarters of the Nixon apartment. Nixon's breakfast fare is always the same: Fresh orange juice, half a grapefruit, cold cereal and skim milk, and coffee. Sometimes Mrs. Nixon joins him for coffee.” The cottage cheese consumption came later in the day, and the dish was often topped with fruit—peaches, pears or oranges—depending on availability.
Before the Nixons actually entered the White House, the staff was apprised of the family’s fondness for fresh California and Florida produce (especially avocados) and steak, but neglected to mention the incoming president’s fondness for cottage cheese. In The White House Family Cookbook, former White House chef Henry Haller shares the tale of a kitchen staffer offering to drive around—in a limo—in search of cottage cheese on the night of his inauguration. And while he does corroborate the 37th president’s daily intake, (“A cottage cheese plate became his regular noontime meal, served with Rye Crisp, and sometimes fresh fruit in season.”), Haller makes a point of debunking a story he felt had gotten out of hand.
“If the President ever doused his cottage cheese with catsup, I never saw him, and doubt he ever did,” writes Heller.“ Yet the rumored ‘recipe’ became rather popular with the dieting American public.” Heller goes on to clarify that Nixon’s daily breakfast consisted of fresh fruit, wheat germ with nondairy creamer, and coffee.
So was Nixon’s fondness for cottage cheese and ketchup just the fake news of its day? Was it actually skim milk or nondairy creamer in his coffee? With all these alternative facts floating around, we may never actually know the truth. Sad.