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Book Review: The Cheese Chronicles

January 27, 2010

I am someone who loves cheese, but knows little about it. In fact, I just recently started learning about cheese when I interviewed Annie’s husband, Simon, a cheesemonger, for Novice Foodie.  So when I saw The Cheese Chronicles on the shelf at Left Bank, I thought it would be as good a place as any to expand my miniscule (but growing!) knowledge of cheese.

I was not disappointed. Yale grad Liz Thorpe left a stable New York office job to schlep cheese, eventually rising to second in command at the esteemed Murray’s Cheese. In The Cheese Chronicles, Thorpe creates a primer for those seeking to learn about emerging American cheeses.

Loosely tied together with narrative bits of Thorpe’s career in cheese are extensive notes on the chemistry of cheesemaking, the history of cheese in America, and at-length profiles of America’s foremost cheesemakers and their very best products. Here and there are fascinating sidetrips into cave building, agricultural politics, animal husbandry and the lactation cycles of sheep, cows, and goats.  Thorpe goes into great detail about the particulars of each type of animal and the cheese made from their milk.

My only gripe with the book is that Thorpe can get a little, oh, melodramatic when describing cheeses.  What I mean is, I think it’s hard for the average reader to get excited about a cheese when Thorpe describes it as “smelling musty and tasting branny” or having a “rubber-raft petrol funk” or, god-forbid, smelling “cat-butty”.  Really, you want me to eat a cheese that smells like feline anus? You have not sold me, ma’am.  It made me think of Sideways’ Paul Giamatti’s oenophilic character using “baby diaper” to describe a wine. There’s gotta be a better way to describe something intended for human consumption.

Not long after finishing The Cheese Chronicles, I happened to be at Whole Foods picking a few things up, and I decided to hit up the cheese counter, browsing to see if I recognized any producers or varieties of cheese.  Surely after reading about dozens and dozens of cheese, I’d retain a bit of knowledge.  Luckily, I did. Farms and their cheeses jumped out at me, and it made it much more difficult to pick just one to take home. As I picked up a wedge of Cabot Clothbound, the cheesemonger  said to me, “That’s a great cheese, if you didn’t know.”  I replied, “I did know, actually, but thank you.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 27, 2010 2:15 pm

    I’ve actually been wanting to try my hand at making cheese. Interesting and I’ll have to check out that book.

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