Many cheese books serve primarily as guides, intended as gateways to understanding the wide world of cheese. Meticulously organized and carefully researched, they are important reference works.
Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese takes the cheese genre, such as it is, in an entirely different direction. While the book is in part about starting a small micro-dairy, it goes well beyond simply reporting the highs and lows of the farm experience. In the first chapter, Kessler places himself squarely in the tradition of 19th century Transcendentalists like Thoreau, observing that he'd always "admired how [Thoreau] wove literary culture and agriculture into one fabric."
Following Thoreau's example, Kessler pulls from a variety of literary and spiritual traditions, ranging from Greek mythology by way of the Greek god Pan - half goat, half man - to Yiddish tales to the Bible and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.... infused with the practical prose of goat husbandry books as he and wife Dona McAdams work hard to learn the everyday ways of goats. As the couple progresses in goat-rearing expertise, readers witness milk, the ultimate fruit of their labors, turn into cheese. Though ultimately cheese is a minor character in the book, it's the tangible (not to mention edible) outcome of what might be called Kessler's 'goat project.'
In Goat Song, Brad Kessler roots himself in, and draws inspiration from, agrarian and pastoralist literary and philosophical traditions. But you won't necessarily find an overarching philosophy of life here like you might reading books of Transcendentalists past. This book is more a journey, where keeping goats and making cheese become both a literary and spiritual pursuit, sort of a travelogue through time. While it's certainly not your everyday reference guide to cheeses of the world, Kessler's book points up the rich complexity of all things fromage.
* * * * * * * * * *
Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese By Brad Kessler Scribner 256 pages, $24, Hardcover