2007 is supposedly the Year of the Boar, but I think some publishing cabal may have declared it the 'year of the cheese book.' Several new books have come out in the past year, all by prominent authors like Jeff Roberts, Laura Werlin, Sharon Tyler Herbst, ,...and now comes Janet Fletcher's Cheese & Wine: A Guide to Selecting, Pairing, and Enjoying.
Janet Fletcher is a food writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. She's published several cookbooks and writes about a host of different food topics, but cheese aficionados know her as the author of the only weekly cheese column in an American newspaper, The Cheese Course. In the column, Fletcher selects one particular style of cheese, pulls it out of the proverbial cheese case and makes it come alive on the page, offering anecdotes from the farm, tasting notes, pairing suggestions and the history of the cheese. Her writing sets a high standard for food writers no matter what their subject.
While there are plenty of encyclopedic reference books about cheeses and cheese styles, Cheese & Wine focuses on the narrower topic of pairing cheese with wine. It's easy to become overwhelmed with trying to put the two together - just contemplating the task often leads people to give up altogether for fear of not doing it 'right.' In this book, Fletcher offers strategies instead of dictates and suggestions rather than rigid rules. The underlying message - you're not going to mess this up - will encourage readers to explore this realm of inviting culinary experiences.
Fletcher starts out with a primer on pairing, outlining the variety of flavor characteristics inherent in both cheese and wine and suggesting ways to bring the two together. Next, she offers a representative selection of cheese choices ("Cheeses to Know"), both foreign and domestic and across the range of styles, from fresh Feta to soft ripened Camembert to American classics like Juniper Grove Tumalo Tomme and Jasper Hill Farm Bayley Hazen Blue. While she devotes considerable time to each (more than is typical in these kinds of books), the time is well spent developing our understanding of what the cheese is about and where it came from. Along with each profile Fletcher suggests a variety of wines that, in her estimation, have flavor characteristics best paired with the cheese. My only minor quibble is not one of substance but of form: the accompanying cheese plate suggestions (i.e. the "Celebrate Diversity" or "Salute to Spain" plates), while interesting and elegant set pieces, are somewhat awkwardly interspersed throughout the text and cumbersome to locate or re-locate, even if you're looking for them. I should add that the gorgeous photography makes the cheeses leap off the page; I swear I could taste the cheeses just by looking at the pictures.
The plethora of cheese books coming out this year is, I think, an indication of the rising interest and popularity in artisan cheese. More and more people are eagerly exploring the incredible variety of tastes and flavors available to them, and a growing number of regional, national and international guides point the way. Janet Fletcher's Cheese & Wine demystifies cheese and wine, reminding readers that this classic pairing combination that can be as simple and satisfying or elegant and ornate as you make it. And there's no one better than Janet Fletcher to show you how.
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Cheese & Wine: A Guide to Selecting, Pairing, and Enjoying
by Janet Fletcher
photos by Victoria Pearson
Chronicle Books 144 pages $24.95 hardcover
Janet Fletcher is also the author of:
as well as several other cookbooks and reference guides.