For many, the world of cheese seems an idealized place where happy dairy animals roam in perpetually verdant pastures and cheese is made, sold and eaten in lovely sunny settings that evoke European villages of yore. Or perhaps those ARE European villages of yore. And the belief seems to be that if you can find a way to get 'in' with that world, well, then you're set for life.
Fact is, for the most part the cheese industry is a subculture much like any other. Egos clash, businesses fall over one another to compete in the marketplace, cheesemongers sift their way through the good and bad cheeses of the world and customers berate workers with their infinite misguided notions. This, my friends, is the real world Gordon Edgar lets you in on in his book Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge. And I think the cheese industry is the better for his unretouched accounting....because ultimately utopia is more a state of mind than reality.
Edgar is not shy about relating how he got into cheese retail - on a bluff - but a cheesemonger's job description, a combination of serious technical knowledge along with people skills seems to suit him well. His self described punk/anarchist background lends a frank, unapologetic tone to this book, which is precisely its appeal - he's all about bringing cheese to the people. Edgar's forthrightness knocks Cheese (with a capital 'C') off of its pastoral pedestal and shows that it's actually something more complex, mysterious and messy - and thus MUCH more compelling than you may have ever thought.
Cheesemonger is part memoir, part day in the life, and part cheese primer. For geeks, there's plenty of in-depth discussions about cheese and dairy issues like raw milk and rGBH....but for the adventure-inclined, Edgar's also got juicy stories about maggoty brie, slimy distributors and customers using him as a facilitator of romance (among other things). I think the best part of this book, for me, is that Gordon Edgar clearly loves what he's doing and, in turn, loves to talk about it. That's the recipe for a riveting 'life on the wedge.'
Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge by Gordon Edgar Chelsea Green Publishing; 256 pages $17.95 paperback
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upcoming local signing events:
Gordon Edgar will be signing books at the Oregon Cheese Festival in Central Point, OR on March 20th and appearing at Reading Frenzy in Portland on Sunday March 21st at 7pm (free beer!). Also look for him at the Seattle Cheese Festival May 15-16th.