Cheese Books of 2012
On the last day of the year, I drink coffee before a temple of books. I have gathered them before me to honor their authors. Not all of them wrote cheese books, but all of them speak to cheese — through recipes, pairing ideas, and even philosophies of retail.
Because I spent most of 2012 writing a cheese book in a quiet corner of the house, I am thinking about pages rather than slices as the gray sky brightens a little, then turns its cool color of Humboldt Fog. The books before you are the page-turners I relied on this year. I poured over them for inspiration, cooked from them in my kitchen, and toted some of them to the beach. Many are new, but some are old — just like a good cheese.
If you choose to begin the New Year with some fatty reading, let it begin here:
Of all the country-specific cheese books I turned to this year, French Cheese was the most useful and dynamic. It’s not just loaded with photos and useful info, it contains images of the small towns in which some of these beauties are made. In short, it’s a cheese book with mood.
Also, every entry contains a map of France with a red dot pinpointing its origin, and the editors offer great sidebars, from “How to cut a Comte” to a detailed description of Beaufort Cows. No traveler to France should be without this little morsel, which is such a nice size for packing. Indeed, any admirer of French beasties (retailer or novice) should own a copy and thumb through it to learn the real story behind Neufchatel.
I have not yet made my pilgrimage to Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but I enjoy their quirky catalogues, and I know several cheesemongers who worship Ari Weinzweig’s approach to service. No, I don’t want to open a cheese shop, but I am curious about Weinzweig’s business model since he seems to be the Tim Ferriss of the cheese world. W’s insistence that “people do their best work when they’re part of a really great organization” hit home with me. I also admired his approach to leadership. This is a good book for any visionary
Kirstin Jackson is the West Coast doyenne of dairy blogging, and I’ve admired her wine-and-cheese-pairing prowess for a long time. Her new book is a cross-country ramble in search of America’s most unique cheeses. I was surprised to discover many new wheels here, lifted out of obscurity by Jackson’s keen eye. Each chapter explores a specific cheese style and offers a window (often several) into the lives of American makers. Recipes conclude each chapter (i.e. Bayley Hazen Panna Cotta with Rosewater Poached Pears). This is great book for aspiring cheesemakers or anyone curious about the depths of the American scene.
4. Food in Jars
My good friend and long-ago grad student Marisa McClellan taught me everything I know about blogging and preserving. Her book, named after her popular Food in Jars blog, shares her seasonal approach to putting up and is designed to expand the mind of any budding canner (a dash of sage turns blackberry jam into something glorious). Marisa and I have hosted many workshops and tastings as collaborators. If you want to pair cheese with preserves, you must try her pear-vanilla compote with Delice de Bourgogne. Simply wicked.
Paul Kindstedt is the grand wizard of cheese chemistry, a beard who has taught so many American cheesemakers how to better their craft. This long-awaited book on the history of cheese in Western culture is dense and beautifully written. Best of all: one can smell Kindstedt’s mixture of curiosity and reverence on every page. If you want to read about sacrificial cakes in early Greece or about the first cheese graters in the Mediterranean, start here. As a companion piece, listen to Anne Saxelby’s interview with Kindstedt on her radio show, Cutting the Curd.
This book might seem like the oddball pick of my list, but I like blogger Michael Natkin’s approach to dairy in this, his first vegetarian cookbook. He layers goat cheese under purple potatoes for a rustic tart; he offers Maple Pickled Pears as a side for a cheese course. This sort of inventiveness was unexpected, for me, in a cookbook that relies heavily on flavor inspiration from Asia and the Middle East.
Chester Hastings made me weep when I opened to his recipe for Savory Chocolate Fettucine with Mascarpone and Lemon. Who does that — who combines such oddities with finesse? Hastings, a cheesemonger and chef, works with his family to run the gourmet hub Joan’s on Third in Los Angeles. Pick up this book if you are an Advanced Cheese Geek. It’s beautifully photographed, and the flavor combinations are miles beyond what most people can conceive of when they dream of Brie.
Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery fame got me hot and bothered about mozzarella — me, a blue cheese dame. When I am having a bad day, I stare at her back cover photo of squash blossom pizza which comes with petal-like spoonfuls of ricotta. This is a cookbook for cheese lovers, Italians, and fans of Italian cheese — especially spoonable kinds. No one comes close to making me want a caprese salad the way Silverton does. Her recipes are written the way a mother might write to her child: Carefully lift the tomatoes by the stems and gently rest one cluster atop each serving of cheese…