Culture: Want to Get Into Cheese? These Books Can Help. | Wine Enthusiast
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Want to Get Into Cheese? These Books Can Help.

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If you’ve ever looked at a cheese counter and felt a mix of excitement and overwhelm, you’re not alone. Learning about cheese is a delicious task, but also a formidable one.

As with many foods and beverages, cheese contains a whole world of knowledge. There’s history, geography, anthropology, biology, chemistry and agriculture. It helps to be able to pronounce some Italian, French, Spanish, Greek and other languages. And that’s all before you’ve even nibbled on some cheese.

“Anyone serious about getting into cheese should spend time mongering behind a cheese counter,” says Zoe Brickley, creative director, Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont. “You can’t beat that experience for the development of sensory ability and context for the world of cheese provenance and the landscape of styles.”

But, not all of us are quite ready to chuck it all for a life in cheese. For Brickley, “a great place to start at the onset of a lifelong cheese journey” is Anne Saxelby’s The New Rules of Cheese. “It’s visual and fun, but packs a punch of content,” she says.

Hannah Howard, author of Plenty: A Memoir of Food and Family, is also a fan.

“Saxelby opened Saxelby Cheesemongers, New York’s first-ever all-American cheese shop, in 2006,” says Howard, “and her deep love, knowledge, and passion for cheese shine through on every page.”

Another great book for beginners is The Book of Cheese by Liz Thorpe. It outlines a system of 10 “gateway cheeses” that helps readers explore and understand different styles via familiar cheeses like Brie and cheddar. Erika Kubick, author of the forthcoming Cheese Sex Death: A Bible for the Cheese Obsessed, believes it’s a “genius” approach.

Kubick is also partial to Di Bruno Bros House of Cheese by Tenaya Darlington. “The way she describes cheese is enchanting: the smells, textures, flavors, and how you feel when you’re eating it,” says Kubick. She calls it “the most seductive cheese book that I know of.”

For a more academic perspective, there are few books as loved as Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and its Place in Western Civilization by Dr. Paul Kindstedt, who Brickley calls her “cheese crush.”

In it, Kindstedt tells the story of human history by way of cheese. The book begins with hunter gatherers in the Neolithic period, and explores how cheese and human history intertwined through Hellenic Greece, the Middle Ages, the Industrial Revolution, all the way up through the late 1990s U.S.

“The main focus is that cheese plays a culturally monumental part in history,” says Howard.

Carlos Yescas, traditional cheese advocate and author of Quesos Mexicanos, also cites Cheese and Culture as a favorite, though he notes its European focus. “I think it is time for someone to grab the concepts he introduces and use them to explain cheese culture in other parts of the world,” Yescas says.

For those particularly interested in U.S. cheeses, Yescas recommends The Life of Cheese by Dr. Heather Paxson.

“I often think of her anthropological terminology of ‘post-pastoral’ when thinking about the cheese movement in the U.S. and how truly different the artisanal cheese movement is in America versus other places,” he says.

cheese board
Learning about cheese is a delicious task / Getty

It’s hard for cheese professionals to talk about books without a nod to The Oxford Companion to Cheese, arguably the industry’s most in-depth reference. Yescas, who was part of the project, calls it “truly collaborative and multidisciplinary.”

Kubick agrees. “It’s the best source of information and will answer any question you have about cheese,” she says.

Once you start on your cheese learning journey, you may find that some of your favorite resources don’t focus solely on cheese. Brickley says the first two chapters of Harold McGee’s On Food & Cooking were foundational in her understanding of cheese science. And Kubick loves Michael Pollan’s Cooked, particularly when he writes about Mother Noella, a microbiologist, nun and cheesemaker.

“She makes cheese the old-fashioned way, using raw cow’s milk in a wooden vat,” says Kubick of Mother Noella. “Her work in protecting biodiversity in cheesemaking has changed the game. She is such a legend.”

The Best Cheese Books

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