Book Review: Say Cheese!

by Matt on October 11, 2011

I think I can say that my love of cheese is no secret. It’s my favorite food group (yes, I consider it a group that must be eaten regularly). I was excited when Kristina told me her next book round up would be all about cheese. BRING IT. Oh, and bring me some wine while you’re at it. Take it away, Kristina! — matt

Kristina Gill: I read on Twitter that it is National Cheese Month, so I thought I’d bring you guys a small selection of the books I have on my shelf about cheese.  Something old, something new, but infinitely useful to cover all the bases from buying it, making it, cooking with it, pairing it with other foods.  Last year, Matt did a brief video providing tips on cheese plates.  You should check it out again if you missed it the first time.  (You can just see me sitting at the table at 2:29, then I got sent upstairs!!  But I was allowed to hoover up all the leftovers afterward!)  I must say that after having written these reviews, I sooooo wish I had a cheese plate.

Cheese Primer by Steven Jenkins (Workman, 1996) and Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager by Max McCalman and David Gibbons (Clarkson Potter, 2009)  Two books you could consider your cheese atlases.  They take you on a trip around the world of cheese.  The Cheese Primer is 90% about individual cheeses and how to choose and serve them, spanning Europe and the United States.  Mastering Cheese on the other hand is the opposite.  It’s about the food itself, cheese from A-Z, with 25% about the cheeses of Europe and the United States, a little by country a little by type.  The Cheese Primer is a very useful reference book for when I want to hone in on a specific cheese.  When I got the book in 1996, it was so exciting to read, now that I think about it, maybe that’s why I moved to Italy…  I’ve tasted almost all the Italian cheeses in the book, but not many of the others.  And though Nancy Silverton likes to say that it was LA that put burrata on the map in the United States, Steven Jenkins did indeed have burrata in his book in 1996 (and he includes my favorite castelmagno from Piedmont)!  I would highly recommend either (or both) of these books if you want to know about a lot of different cheeses, where they’re from, and what they’re about.

 (Matt’s notes: I don’t think you could find a greater example of mid 90’s graphic design than Cheese Primer’s book cover. Whoa.)

Artisan Cheese Making at Home:  Techniques and Recipes for Mastering World Class Cheeses by Mary Karlin (Ten Speed Press, 2011; photography by Ed Anderson)  I have never used this book because there are three farms not too far from my home which make their own cheeses.  One makes only mozzarella, one makes an entire range of raw milk cheeses including very good mozzarella, and a third organic farm specialized in aged cheeses, up to 8 years.  If I didn’t live so close to these three farms, I might indeed be tempted to do some experimenting.  This book is beautiful (Ed Anderson’s photographs are wonderful) and goes from the beginning to the end of the cheese-making process.  It has recipes for traditional cheeses, like provolone, queso blanco, whole milk ricotta, and chèvre.  It also covers rubbed cheeses (cocoa, honey, etc) and more advanced bloomy rind, surface-ripened, smeared-rind, and blue cheeses.  I am curious about everything and I find even reading about how these cheeses are made fascinating, and understanding the process only increases my respect for the artisans who make good versions of them!  This is a book for that person you know would love to try out cheese-making, or for someone who is just really curious about how cheese is made.  There are also recipes in the book that use cheese as a featured ingredient.

Fiona Beckett’s Cheese Course (Ryland Peters and Small, 2009; photography by Richard Jung)  Now that you know everything there is to know about cheese– where it’s from, how it’s made, how it should taste, how to choose it, and how to serve it, enter British food journalist, Fiona Beckett, with her book on cheese and how to pair it and serve it.  Beckett has cheese covered, from the explanation of the types of cheeses to wine/drink and cheese pairing, cheese boards, and recipes.  Richard Jung has beautifully photographed it all, and it really is torture looking at the photographs if you’re trying to keep a low-fat diet (hello leek and blue cheese quiche with hazelnut crust…lavender honey and vanilla cheesecake anyone??).  This is a book for someone who loves putting together cheese plates and boards.  This is perfect if you don’t need to know too much about any single cheese, but you like to have a general guide on pairing different types of cheese with each other and with other items.  If you need the reader’s digest version, watch Matt’s video!  [There is a recipe in this book for oat crackers, divine with cheese, or you can use my favorite recipe from Richard Corrigan's Clatter of Forks and Spoons].