Every aspiring curd nerd yearns to embiggen their knowledge base about the dairy darlings they adore. The most learned way to do this is to consume cheese. Of course, it’s not just as simple as cramming cheese in your craw, but carefully looking at cheese and analyzing its rind and paste. Feeling the texture on your fingers and palate. Examining the wet stone smell of a young goat cheese or noticing how the caramel-brandy aromas of a well-aged Gouda intensify when you crack it under your nose. Of course, there is always the savoring in through taste.
However, there are a LOT of cheeses out there and to address that issue there are plenty of books to help you gain a better understanding of them. Below are a few good places to start when it comes to getting your learn on.
You may know Tenaya Darlington from her blog, Madame Fromage, where she looks at all things cheese. Darlington's secret identity is that of a writing professor at Saint Joseph’s University and seasoned journalist. This highly literate skill set is demonstrated through Darlington’s eloquent and quirky descriptions of cheese that are as endearing as they are apropos.
Take Harbison, for example. It’s a cow’s milk cheese from Vermont made in a Brie-style and wrapped in tree bark. It’s extremely gooey inside and tastes like butter, vanilla, and perhaps a bit of pine. Darlington describe this cheese’s personality as, “A sexy librarian’s cheese -- all horns rims and whispers.” Spanish Leonora, a fine goat cheese with a citrus tang, is considered as, “A head-turning blonde on a lemon cake bender.”
Imaginative to say the least, but she goes on to describe the history, culture, and flavor profiles of the cheeses with surprising breadth in brevity. She then offers various matches for a possible cheese plate that go far beyond jam and nuts to options like kiwis, boiled potatoes and cumin seeds, and biscotti.
The book is peppered with clever and engaging recipes that are easy to put together. Some recipes utilize the cheeses in the book such as the Swiss Fondue and the Grilled Peaches with Quadrello Di Bufala. Others are designed to be paired with cheeses like the sweet and sour rhubarb refrigerator jam. (Can I get a, “Hell, yes!” up in here?)
Each entry is wrapped up with various wine, beer, and spirit pairings that you should truly take to heart. They’re rather clever and sometimes unexpected, which leads to rather jaunty discoveries you’ll be eager to share with friends.
The book was written in tandem with the historical and celebrated Di Bruno Brothers, whose cheese selection is both glorious and varied.
Chester Hastings' book came out a year or two ago amid little fanfare or notice, which makes me sad. For any cheese enthusiast this book is a must have. Forget fondue and grilled cheese (though, fear not, there is an excellent Castelmagno and Hazelnut Fondue that doesn’t so much taste like sex, but tastes like great sex where you and your partner both orgasm simultaneously).
This book isn’t too in-depth with the cheese education, a few history or tasting lessons here and there but don’t expect a lot of help with your thesis. Instead, Hasting urges you to go out and topple the pillar that cheese so vaingloriously sits on as instructed by hardcore cheese purists. Cheese -- great, artisanal cheese -- can and should be used in the kitchen.
Recipes such as zucchini with goat Gouda fritters, golden eggplant with creamy feta and croutons, and lasagna with asparagus and burrata are just some of the awe-inspiring dishes that grace the pages. Salads, fruit, meat, fish, and dessert are all given a fair address in the pages to ensure you do not leave wanting.
Joseph De Leo provides the photography in the book. The images are macro and moody, and tell a country tale of cheeses and dinners both crafted with care. It makes for a rather romantic tale.