Wednesday, February 4, 2009

American Cheeses: A Review

"Cheese is milk made immortal."
--Spanish writer Ramón Gómez de la Serna (1888–1963), inventor of the greguería (surrealist aphorism)

Cheese is becoming a very hot topic and it has been much on my mind since reading Culture: The Word on Cheese, a new cheese magazine. So when I was at a local Barnes & Noble and saw this new book, I felt compelled to check it out. I should also mention that I have added to my blog a section of Cheese Links, many being local.

American Cheeses: The Best Regional, Artisan, and Farmhouse Cheeses: Who Makes Them and Where to Find Them by Clark Wolf (Simon & Schuster, Dec. 2008, $25) is a hardcover book of 275 pages. Back in 1976, Clark Wolf ran a cheese shop in San Francisco and in 1980 he became the manager of the Oakville Grocery in San Francisco. He is currently the founder and President of Clark Wolf Company, a New York-based food and restaurant consulting firm. He is also a food writer who has been published in numerous magazines.

The book begins with a brief introduction to cheese, with lots of practical advice including on storing, serving and pairing cheese. It also presents Wolf's goal for the readers of the book. "What I hope you'll take from this book is a more-than-basic feel for cheese that will help and let you explore, experiment, and, most important, enjoy a growing world of wonderfully made American cheeses." (p.22). This introduction is presented in a laid back and slightly irreverant style which appealed to me. I was also pleased to see that Wolf considers Cambridge, MA one of the five best cheese towns in the last 30 years. Burlington, VT also makes that list. New England is certainly a cheese hot spot.

The rest of the book is a resource guide to cheese makers across the country, with a few additional cheese-related individuals added. This section is divided into four regions: The Northeast and New England, the South, the Middle West, and the Wild West. Each profile describe the cheesemaker, lists their contact information and notes the types of cheese they produce. At the end of each region's chapter is a number of recipes that use cheese.

This is not the type of book you read straight through but rather something you can read at random, checking whatever interests you, as well as later using it for a reference book. I was most interested in the local cheese makers, those in New England, as those are the places I am most likely to visit. Wolf's descriptions are enticing and interesting. I could easily plan a cheese itinerary for a nice summer day. I also found some intriguing recipes, including: Creamy Potato Soup, a few different Macaroni & Cheese recipes, and Kentucky Spoon Bread with Goat Cheese and Country Ham.

Overall, I liked this book though your own opinion may vary dependent on what you are seeking. If you are just looking for an educational book about cheese, including the various types of cheeses, then this is not what you want. This is more a resource guide to learn about local cheese makers. If that is what you are seeking, then this book will serve you well. You should enjoy Wolf's writing style and you won't feel intimidated by the book.

Do you have a favorite local cheese maker?

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