Three New Cheese Books for the Holidays

Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurs from a Maître FromagerMastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromagerby Max McCalman and David Gibbons (Clarkson Potter, 384 pages $40, hardcover)

There are many great cheese books available these days. You've got books about French cheese, Italian cheese, pairing wine and cheese, and American artisan cheese. There's even a book about Northwest cheese, of all things. But I'm going to make a big statement here, so brace yourself - in Mastering Cheese, McCalman and Gibbons have produced the essential guide to all things cheese.

I say this because Mastering Cheese is the most comprehensive book on cheese available today. It's what Steve Jenkins' Cheese Primer was when it was published 13 years ago - a complete, authoritative window onto the world of cheese. Covering cheese history, cheesemaking and the great artisan cheeses and cheesemaking regions of the globe (including the US), this book is intended to be a 'masters course' in cheese and certainly achieves that goal.

One of the things I most like about Mastering Cheese is that it's a teaching book and doesn't come across as a dry, strictly academic guide. Readers are engaged by the stories and photos, to be sure, but are also encouraged to play along and taste, pair and understand cheese is all of its marvelous complexity. So, for example, while there's plenty of discussion about the ins and outs of raw milk cheeses, there's also an eloquent discussion of the nuances of blue cheese, from the sweet so-called 'dessert' blues like Gorgonzola to salty, assertive raw milk Stichelton, along with some suggestions for putting together your own blue cheese tasting plate. There's discussions of the world's great cheesemaking regions like France, Switzerland and Italy as well as discussions about pairing, cheesemaking chemistry and how to develop a cheese palate.

So, really, if there is one book you need to buy for the cheese obsessed person in your life this holiday season, this is the one. [full disclosure: I am mentioned in this book and also contributed some photos, so consider my opinions accordingly].

* * * *

In a Cheesemaker's Kitchen | Allison HooperIn a Cheesemaker's Kitchen: Celebrating 25 Years of Artisanal Cheesemaking from Vermont Butter & Cheese Company

by Allison Hooper (Countryman Press, 112 pages, $19.95, paperback)

One of the pioneers of artisan cheesemaking in the US, Allison Hooper started Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. (VBC) with business partner Bob Reese in 1984. Her new book, In a Cheesemaker's Kitchen, celebrates their 25 years of success. This is a gorgeously photographed guide to using, cooking with and generally appreciating VBC's products - from cultured butter to fromage blanc to gorgeous French style cheeses like Couple and Bijou. Recipes from chefs including Eric Ripert, Michele Richard and Dan Barber show off VBC's products in a spectacular way: Ripert's goat cheese parfait with sweet potatoes and chives and Michele Richard's Creme Fraiche Cucumber Salmon (just to name a couple) look absolutely amazing. Credit the photographer? Well yes...but, credit the chefs, the cheese and Alison Hooper and Bob Reese for their pioneering spirits.


* * * *

The Cheese Chronicles | Liz ThorpeThe Cheese Chronicles: A Journey Through the Making and Selling of Cheese in America, From Field to Farm to Table by Liz Thorpe (Ecco Press, 400 pages, $15.99, paperback)

From her vantage point in the leadership circle at Murray's in New York, Thorpe presides over one of the centers of cheese in the US. The Cheese Chronicles is, at its core, a memoir of sorts that finds its narrative voice in Thorpe's career adventures tasting cheese and meeting America's cheesemakers. I have to admit, I was a bit worried about this book in the beginning, where Thorpe details her drunk-and-hungover-the-next-day exploits at Major Farm (makers of Vermont Shepherd cheese) - but perhaps that says more about me. Thorpe really hits her stride when she gets down to detailing farm visits and cheese tastings, and outlining the emerging trends that have led to the current artisan cheese renaissance. This book announces a new generation of cheese personalities and voices in the US; Thorpe's recent appearances on Martha Stewart's show, NPR Science Friday and in People Magazine are educating a new generation of consumers about great handcrafted cheese.