For several years, Kirstin Jackson has been captivating cheese interested readers with her witty and informative blog, It’s Not You, It’s Brie. Now she’s unleashed her considerable talents in a longer format, and we have It’s Not You, It’s Brie: Unwrapping America’s Unique Culture of Cheese- the book. Part travelogue, part tasting guide and part cheese encyclopedia, the book is a fabulous romp through the world of domestic cheese, with recipes for good measure. Like her blog, Jackson’s book is smart, funny and irreverent all at once- in other words, totally absorbing. I’m thrilled to see an author stray from the worshipful, remote prose so common in books about cheese…. in It’s Not You, It’s Brie, Jackson brings the world of cheese and cheesemakers to to life, in all of their stinky, funky glory.
Kirstin Jackson was kind enough to take a few minutes to chat about the book, how she got into cheese, and her take of the cheeses of the Pacific Northwest.
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Right away in the introduction, it’s clear that this is going to be a different kind of cheese book. What did you have in mind when you were writing?
Well, thank you! I wanted to write a book that explored why domestic artisan cheese is the way it is -i.e. awesome- through exploring its styles, flavors, and cultural and historical influences in-depth, but also keep it lighthearted. It was important to me to avoid writing a book that was too serious or exclusive, because enjoying and learning more about our artisan cheese is within everyone’s grasp. That said, another aim in writing this book was to thoroughly appease my inner cheese geek by asking TONS of questions of the 48 different cheesemakers profiled in the book, and to travel around the country eating pounds of cheese in the name of research. I also went with a publishing house and editor that let me have a lot of fun writing- I could be a little… less traditional with my descriptions.
Tell us a little about your background. You went to UC Berkeley (majoring in anthropology, I believe?) and culinary school. How did that evolution into food come about? And then how did you arrive at cheese?
Immediately after graduating high school I went to culinary school, cooked for three years in restaurant kitchens, and then decided that I wanted to return to school to to write about food. That inspiration struck when I picked up my first Saveur magazine in the late nineties, but working in kitchens didn’t provide me with the time to do actually write. A couple years later I transferred to UC Berkeley, and yes, studied cultural anthropology and worked as an interviewer and transcriptionist in the Regional Oral History Food Program. After Cal, I worked in a cheese shop and started managing a wine bar and directing their cheese program. I went on to teach- at Solano Cellars, the Cheese School of 18 Reasons, Murray’s and beyond.