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Earliest use to mean importance:
- 1910, O. Henry, Unprofessional Servant:
- Del had crawled from some Tenth Avenue basement like a lean rat and had bitten his way into the Big Cheese... He had danced his way into fame in sixteen minutes.
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- (idiomatic) A very important figure, especially a high-ranking person in an organization.
- He'll be meeting with the big cheese first thing tomorrow, to present his proposal.
- 1995, Rich Mendoza (music), “Where The Money Goes”, in Money Rock, performed by Schoolhouse Rock!/Jack Sheldon:
- If not for all these bills and taxes, our income would more than suffice. I feel like a real big cheese, until everybody takes a slice!
an important figure