If you've ever stood in front of a well-stocked cheese case, frozen with indecision over which cheese to choose, then you need this book. In Cheese Essentials, expert Laura Werlin takes the role of a friendly and well traveled tour guide, walking the novice cheese consumer through the world of cheese step by step. Her signposts are the divisions between cheese types (eight in all). Each style is treated to its own chapter which explains in detail how the style is made, its variations and potential range of flavors. Motivated adventurers will enjoy the 'take home tests' toward the end of each chapter, where Werlin assigns cheeses to buy and then provides a detailed tasting lesson guiding them through the sensory and flavor expedition they've embarked on. Finally, each chapter offers a selection of recipes using cheeses of the particular style under discussion.
The book succeeds in its mission to educate the interested but nervous cheese consumer. Werlin's explanations are considered, direct and convey loads of information that even the cheese savvy might find useful. Perhaps most importantly, you'll feel that she's talking to you, not at you; she genuinely wants you to share in her enthusiasm for cheese. I particularly liked the fact that she entertains common consumer questions such as - why is cheese so expensive? or - why don't some cheeses melt? Laura Werlin has thought of just about everything in this book and that's one of the reasons I think readers will find it handy and instructive...and even fun.
As Werlin points out in the introduction, the book is not intended to be a cheese encyclopedia but as a guide to understanding the styles of cheese that are out there. Armed with this information, anyone will be able to step up to a cheese counter confidently. Werlin is a thorough and patient teacher and as a result, I think that readers interested in learning about this fun and rapidly changing category of good food will find this book an engaging guide.
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Laura Werlin's Cheese Essentials: An Insider's Guide to Buying and Serving Cheese by Laura Werlin with photographs by Maren Caruso Stewart, Tabori and Chang 272 pages $24.95