The Anarchy of Cheese Made Simple

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Image: Chelsea Green
Book Review: Cheesemonger by Edgar Gordon
Cheesemonger inspires one to become an expert on cheese -- or on anything for that matter -- with the realization that this goal is achievable with a good dose of humility, curiosity and hard work. And if you already fancy yourself a cheese expert, such as the American who did a two year post-doc at the Sorbonne, this book may prevent you from making an overconfident ass of yourself. Best of all, this book celebrates both old and new world cheeses, proving that cheesemaking continues to perpetuate a local tradition in which the consumer can revel in the taste of the "grass roots."The Cheesemonger is Edgar Gordon. Gordon makes it clear in no uncertain terms that he started with zero cheese knowledge, leveraging a history as a punk-rock political activist to bluff his way into a job at the cheese counter of a worker-owned coop. He sets about earning the qualifications to call himself a "cheesemonger." We won't give away Gordon's definition here; you'll have to read the book to get a good chuckle at that. Along the way, he conquers both the anarchy of life in the coop and the confusing disorder of wonderfully diverse products that we lump unter the term cheese.

A little bit of knowledge is dangerous. If you don't believe me, wait until you read the Cheesemonger's stories. From amusing anecdotes to downright outrageous inside scoops, it is the humorous report from the front-lines of the co-op lifestyle and the world of cheese that make this book an enjoying read for food buffs and sustainability fans alike. Gordon covers the politics of cheese, from raw milk vs. hormones to the "Reagan cheese" mountains resulting from government milk subsidies. Gordon drops facts about the process of making cheese and the people who dedicate their lives to it; by the end of the book the reader will have a new appreciation for the term "indigenous cultures."

Gordon shares his experiences as a cheesemonger in a unique and fresh voice, relying on his native capability for cynicism tempered by intelligent observation and the passion of a man committed to his profession. Even if the reader might be inclined to speed-scan a couple of sections, this book is worth the effort, because at the end of each chapter, the reader is rewarded with a cheese-guide style review of two cheeses.

The introduction of new world cheeses, with comparisons to the old-world cheeses that they easily succeed in replacing, will become an essential companion to North Americans looking for a more local diet. The back-story on the conception of the cheese and each producer's unique methods will further enhance the enjoyment of the cheese, especially if you have the opportunity to impress your friends -- with all due humility -- with your newly acquired cheese knowledge.

Cheesemonger is published by Chelsea Green, the publishing leader for books on the politics and practice of sustainable living for over a quarter-century.

More on Foodie Books:
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Book Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma
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