“I’ll eat nae mair o’ yer cheese!” was a phrase I oft heard as a wee ginger-haired laddie back in my Edinburgh home town. My ever-genteel* Scottish Grandad had a habit of exclaiming this obscure pronouncement at every available opportunity, with the aim of informing all within earshot that he wasn’t quite as “regular” as he would like to have been.
The only reason that I bring up this esoteric factoid of Drummond family eccentricities is because I find myself putting together a review of a book about cheese and I am attempting to trace from whence my great passion for the lovely stuff actually stems from.
A few of you may be aware that I have scoured the bookstores of the world to find my holy grail of cheese guides, and many will have evidence of this quest sitting upon their kitchen bookshelves. Yes, I have a little admission to make… If you have ever received a cheese book from me as a gift over the past twenty years then the chances are that it was a purchase that I was particularly disappointed with. There. I said it. Confession is such a cathartic experience, is it not? Well, let me tell you something… last week I found the cheese bible I had been obsessively seeking for all of these years.
World Cheese Book is truly a tour de force. With New Zealand-born/United Kingdom-based fromage deity Juliet Harbutt at the helm as Editor-In-Chief, this book is simply the most comprehensive and concise guide to the enormous world of that delicious combination of both fats and proteins that have come to be known semantically as cheese.
Particularly impressive is the manner in which the book has been constructed, with twenty Sub-Editors, all experts in their particular regions/countries, weighing in with both their informed opinions and, for the most part, extremely well-structured tasting notes. Of particular note to our Canadian readers is our very own Gurth Pretty, who does us all proud through the justifiable inclusion of an impressive TWENTY FOUR Canadian cheeses. Give that man a Order of Canada someone!
I have found myself dipping into The World Cheese Book repeatedly since the day it first came across my desk. One of the reasons for this is its attractive accessibility. Now please understand I am not saying that this book in any way dumbed down, as there is no doubt in my mind that it will be equally enjoyed by both the enthusiast and the connoisseur.
I suppose that it could be the quasi-pornographic extreme close-up shots that capture every grainy textural aspect, every thread of marbling, every drip of oozing creaminess, and every tear of cheese sweat of (almost) all of the 750 cheeses contained within… and I’ll admit that this visceral approach appealed to my particular sensibilities. You can almost smell them… seriously… *drool*… roll on the next edition with scratch and sniff?
Indulgently gratuitous fromage porn aside, there’s one hell of a lot of information in this book. Each cheese with a directory entry also has a short history, concise tasting notes, a picture of a slice or lump of the cheese from afar, an small illustration showing how big the whole cheese is in relation to one’s head/hand/mother-in-law , a data freak’s “Top Trumps“-style fact sheet (Location, Age, Weight, Shape, Milk Type, Classification, and Producer List), a little location map, and most importantly, in my mind, a damn well-written guide giving recommendations as to how one could best enjoy each particular cheese. This section points out extremly crucial factors such as whether the cheese in question should be eaten in a raw or cooked state, as well as whether it works well with piquillo peppers or truffle honey, or whether it pairs particularly dreamily with a glass of Amador County Zinfandel or perhaps a glass of Indian Pale Ale. Being an opinionated SOB at times I’ll admit that I’m usually rather critical of most cheese/wine pairings, but the contributors of this book have seriously done their research here and for that I have to doff my cap to them… the pairings are extremely well done. When I start referring to a book for wine and cheese pairings I know I have found my perfect reading AND reference tome. How many of you smarty-pants Sommeliers would have any idea what to pair with a Sakura cheese from Shiranuka Gun, Japan? Nope? I didn’t think so…
Add to the above a series of simple (but effective) country maps and over twenty superb double page feature pieces focusing upon many of the world’s most well-known cheeses, and I believe that you have one of the most complete publications on the subject that one could ever wish for. Even my late Grandad Drummond would have enjoyed it thoroughly.