Green’s Dictionary of Slang

cheese, the n.

[Hind. चीज़ (chīz), thing + Persian and Urdu chiz, thing. ‘The expression used to be common among Anglo-Indians, e.g. “My new Arab is the real chiz”, i.e. the real thing.’ (Y&B) but chron. suggests pre-Anglo-Ind. use. Note Charles Kingsley’s punning nonce-word casein, the real thing, f. SE casein, the basic ingredient of cheese]

1. (also the real cheese) just what is wanted.

[UK]General Reciter 76: ‘Aye, sir, aye, that, that’s the cheese’.
[UK]Swell’s Night Guide 75: I should’t like that slum [i.e. a fight] afore the donnas, cos it arnt the cheese.
Adelaide Times 18 June 2/4: Fellow-workmen, the placards of Mr Kingston are direct insults to us, extracts from the Mercury, and bills describing that he is the ‘Real cheese,’ and ‘Rale boy for the Burra,’ is language only fit to be adapted to the lowest pot-house drunkard and brawler.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 2 Oct. 1/1: Less noise there, ladies, if you please, / Sich conduct is not quite the cheese.
[Aus]Nth Aus, Ipswich & General Advertiser 12 Apr. 3/6: The slang term, ‘that’s the cheez,' for ‘that’s the thing.’ ‘Cheez' being Hindustani for ‘thing’.
[UK]C. Reade Hard Cash II 186: I’ve heard Nudity is not the cheese on public occasions.
J. Jacobson Trial 16: Mason – Ah! that is good, very good, in fact the real cheese, the real Stilt-on cheese.
[Ind]W.W. Knollys Misses and Matrimony 76: He is quite a boy, and I hate boys, they are so conceited, and think it the right thing – the cheese, as they call it – to pay one a lot of clumsy compliments.
[UK]D. Kirwan Palace & Hovel 69: My highlows were the cheese, with breeches to the knees.
[US]Bartlett Americanisms 112: That’s the cheese, i.e. just the thing; that was well done.
[UK]Leics. Chron. 24 May 12/3: The grub here isn’t quite the cheese.
[US]Ft Worth Dly Gaz. (TX) 29 Aug. 6/3: When we seed a girl we liked [...] / We called her pretty neat, and good, / But not ‘about the cheese’.
[Aus]Oak-Bough and Wattle-Blossom (1946) n.p.: Some limit the period to five years, the duration of an ordinary trade apprenticeship; some think seven years ‘the cheese;’ whilst others, again, whom we charitably credit with an awful experience of new chum ignorance and stupidity, would [...] protract the date of emancipation ‘yet other seven.’.
[UK]‘Morris the Mohel’ ‘Houndsditch Day By Day’ Sporting Times 18 Jan. 3/1: [It] vhasn’t kvite the cheese.
[Aus]‘Price Warung’ Tales of the Early Days 161: He felt it was ‘not quite the cheese’ [...] for him to place himself in direct communication with the principal in the plot he had contrived.
[US]H.E. Hamblen Yarn of Bucko Mate 218: I knew it was n’t just the cheese to you two, so we ’ll not do it again.
[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ John Henry 54: A fish diet is said to be the real cheese for the brain.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 15 Dec. 19/4: But the next thing I knew was that I was sitting on the top of a hansom cab with my legs dangling. [...] He swore it wasn’t ‘the cheese’ to drive down King-street like that.
[US]M.C. Sharpe Chicago May (1929) 267: Suddenly, he got a brilliant idea, for him, that it would be the cheese for him to break into Christie’s art department, steal a painting.
[UK]S. Rushdie Moor’s Last Sigh 97: ‘You samjao that baysharram pair,’ said the eldest sister Aspinwall, ‘that this sort of tamasha is simply not the cheese.’.

2. (also the real cheese) the best (of a given type or style), the superlative.

[UK]R. Barham ‘The Lord of Thoulouse’ in Ingoldsby Legends (1847) 192: My ‘Conjuring cap’ – it’s the thing; – it’s ‘the cheese!’.
[UK]N&Q VII 25 June 618/1: ‘Bosh’ [and] ‘just the cheese’ are also exotics from the land of the Qui-Hies [...] ‘Just the cheese,’ i.e. just the thing I require, quite comme il faut, &c.
[UK]E.B. Christy Box And Cox in Darkey Drama 6 Preface: This piece will be found ‘just the cheese’.
[UK] ‘’Arry in Parry’ in Punch 15 Nov. 217/1: My accent’s considered the cheese.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 8 Jan. 8/3: With expression ‘fly’ and ‘leary,’ / With as much as he can carry / Of bad beer and rum, come ’Arry / In a ‘rig’ that’s quite the ‘cheese.’.
[US]J.S. Wood Yale Yarns 252: I’ve heard that nowadays to talk way down in their boots, like men, was just the cheese.
[US]H. Green Maison De Shine 281: They’re all right in their way, but a ball’s the real cheese if you want to get the money.
[Ire]Joyce ‘Two Gallants’ Dubliners (1956) 48: And one night she brought me two bloody fine cigars – O, the real cheese, you know.
[US]H.C. Witwer Classics in Sl. 84: I can go in weighin’ four ounces and still knock your cheese champ for a trip!
[US]G. Milburn ‘The Boss Tramp’ in Hobo’s Hornbook 54: I had a cross-eyed daughter, / And she was just the cheese. / Mashes! why she had ’em by the barrel, / Each one a pimple-faced hick.

3. an admirable person; esp. as the real cheese.

[Ind]‘Aliph Cheem’ Lays of Ind 29: When, at sunset, most carefully dressed, / To the bandstand he cantered at ease. / His mind was completely at rest, / For he thought he was rather the cheese.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 25 Apr. 6/3: She next turned her attention to a mysterious gentleman in Cheshire, who seems not to have been quite the Cheshire cheese.
[[US]Day Book (Chicago) 8 May 12/1: Once there was a young blood who considered himself the entire Roquefort].
[US](con. 1900s) G. Swarthout Shootist 177: He was a good criminal, the real cheese.

4. an important or influential person, the boss.

[US]‘Curt Cannon’ ‘Dead Men Don’t Drink’ in I Like ’Em Tough (1958) 38: Take me to the cheese [...] The head punk.

5. (US campus) someone or something that is outdated, in bad taste.

[US]Eble Campus Sl. Apr. 2: the cheese – someone or something that is too flashy, tacky, or out of style.

In phrases

take the cheese (v.) [var. on take the cake v.]

of a negative circumstance or objectionable person, to surpass, to outdo.

[UK]Lantern (NO) 12 Feb. 3: Dere wus two gals dere dat took de cheese for toughness.
[UK]N. Barlay Curvy Lovebox 154: I t’ought I’d be hosin’ down the lavvy tonight but this takes the cheese.