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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Icon: Friendship Cheese

For MT
The 1960s -- the starry-eyed dawn of space exploration and color television -- was also the beginning of a nationwide craze for processed cheese. Druzhba, or "Friendship," the most beloved brand, was invented in 1964 at a milk factory in Uglich, Yaroslavl region, and won over the hearts and stomachs of the Soviet people. Forty years later, the anniversary was celebrated with pomp and even marked with a stone sculpture to the foil-packaged cheese.

Druzhba came in tubs, bricks and circular boxes that contained individually wrapped wedges. The classic color combination of red and yellow with a blue, space-inspired planet graphic -- coupled with the catchy name -- instantly made it a top seller over other processed cheeses produced in the Soviet Union. The brand orbited through years of stagnation and became an especially sentimental treat in tougher times of the 1980s and '90s. As the cheapest alternative to regular cheese or sausage, it was the ubiquitous lunch snack of students. It was also the choice accompaniment to a bottle of vodka for any party of three.

The Russian expression "soobrazit na troikh" presumed a 3.62-ruble half-liter bottle of vodka and a brick of Druzhba cheese priced at 26 kopeks. Folk singer Arkady Severny dedicated a song to those moments of drunken park bench solidarity: "Your glass already has a marking, a quiet corner has been found, the processed cheese has been divided, your share is drying up. Where are you, our third companion ... your share is drying up..."

Ironically, Druzhba has become the subject of a nasty spat. In 2000, the Karat factory in northern Moscow acquired exclusive rights to the brand. The factory proceeded to sue other Druzhba producers, but they rebounded with a lawsuit of their own, accusing Karat of appropriating a Soviet brand that should belong to the state and be produced under franchise agreements. In February, a committee at Rospatent reversed the 2000 decision and concluded that the brand should be state-owned.

As big companies continue pointing fingers and fighting for the right to produce the retro-packaged friendship cheese, the monument to Druzhba cheese is still standing outside the Karat factory. The Crow and the Fox, characters from Ivan Krylov's eponymous fable that fought over a piece of cheese, seem oblivious to any disagreements, hugging over a brick of Druzhba with their backs to the factory.