Wisconsin Cheese: A Cookbook and Guide to the Cheeses of Wisconsin

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Wisconsin Cheese: A Cookbook and GuideCheese books seem to divide themselves into several categories: some are lushly  photographed guidebooks to the cheeses of the world, others offer practical advice, and some emphasize recipes. Some do all of the above. What I’m getting at is that the cheese genre, such as it is, is rapidly filling up with a variety of books that appeal to a broad cross section of people interested in cheese.

Wisconsin Cheese: A Cookbook and Guide is in part a comprehensive manual which covers the state that is the cheesemaking center of the US. Organized primarily by style of cheese from Cheddar to Swiss and beyond, the book discusses the style, then delves a bit into who makes the particular style in Wisconsin, and then tells what to do with it. As the title suggests, recipes are really what this book is all about, running the gamut from dips to cheese grits to pizza to more complex recipes like quiches and souffles and enchiladas, many developed by Wisconsin chefs like Tory Miller of L’Etoile in Madison and Adam Siegel of Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro in Milwaukee.

The chatty, conversational tone of the book will appeal to those interested in learning more about Wisconsin cheese but who may be put off by more distant, academic-style tomes. The authors offer plenty of anecdotes about cheesemakers, animal care and suggestions for Green Bay Packer parties as well as advice on cooking, storing and eating cheese. Wisconsin Cheese: A Cookbook and Guide is chock full of information presented in a fun, accessible format – a tasty introduction to one of America’s great cheesemaking regions.

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Wisconsin Cheese: A Cookbook and Guide to the Cheeses of Wisconsin
by Martin Hintz and Pam Percy
Globe Pequot Press
272 pages  $16.95  paperback

The Definitive Canadian Wine & Cheese Cookbook

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Definitive Canadian Wine & Cheese Cookbook

Following up on his previous survey of Canadian artisan cheeses, The Definitive Guide to Canadian Artisanal and Fine Cheeses, Gurth Pretty has developed a companion cooking and pairing guide called The Definitive Canadian Wine and Cheese Cookbook.

This book answers the perennial question – what do I do with all of this cheese? – and demonstrates the range of possibilities beyond just creating a cheese plate. Pretty, a professional chef, seems more in his element in this book as he whips up all manner of gorgeous appetizers, brunch items, salads and desserts using the great variety of artisan cheese made in Canada.

While the book does offer some cheese basics and background on cheesemaking, the focus is on the food and wine. Recipes range from the simple (Lamb Burgers with Dragon’s Breath cheese from Nova Scotia) to the elaborate (Quark-Filled Croquembouche) and are a demonstration of the range of dishes that are possible to concoct with cheese, if one is willing. Wine pairings are suggested with every dish and incorporate both Canadian and international wines in the mix.

In Canada, cheesemakers can be licensed either federally or provincially; those that are licensed provincially may sell their products only within their respective province. What this means is that you might be able to buy certain cheeses only within a limited area of the country…making Gurth Pretty’s job a little more difficult. While the recipes do call for a specific cheese or cheeses, he helpfully suggests alternatives for those unable to secure the exact product. Either way, this book is a useful guide for culinary and artisan cheese adventurers.

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The Definitive Canadian Wine & Cheese Cookbook
by Gurth Pretty and Tony Aspler
Whitecap Press, 240 pages  $35

Cheese & Wine: A Guide to Selecting, Pairing and Enjoying by Janet Fletcher

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0811857433_norm 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:

:::   The Cheese Course

:::  Four Seasons Pasta: A Year of Inspired Recipes in the Italian Tradition

:::  Fresh from the Farmers’ Market: Year-Round Recipes for the Pick of the Crop

as well as several other cookbooks and reference guides.

Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials

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Laura Werlin's Cheese EssentialsIf you’ve ever stood in front of a well-stocked cheese case, frozen with indecision over which cheese to choose, then you need this book.

In Cheese Essentials, expert Laura Werlin takes the role of a friendly and well traveled tour guide, walking the novice cheese consumer through the world of cheese step by step. Her signposts are the divisions between cheese types (eight in all). Each style is treated to its own chapter which explains in detail how the style is made, its variations and potential range of flavors. Motivated adventurers will enjoy the ‘take home tests’ toward the end of each chapter, where Werlin assigns cheeses to buy and then provides a detailed tasting lesson guiding them through the sensory and flavor expedition they’ve embarked on. Finally, each chapter offers a selection of recipes using cheeses of the particular style under discussion.

The book succeeds in its mission to educate the interested but nervous cheese consumer. Werlin’s explanations are considered, direct and convey loads of information that even the cheese savvy might find useful. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll feel that she’s talking to you, not at you; she genuinely wants you to share in her enthusiasm for cheese. I particularly liked the fact that she entertains common consumer questions such as – why is cheese so expensive? or – why don’t some cheeses melt? Laura Werlin has thought of just about everything in this book and that’s one of the reasons I think readers will find it handy and instructive…and even fun.

As Werlin points out in the introduction, the book is not intended to be a cheese encyclopedia but as a guide to understanding the styles of cheese that are out there. Armed with this information, anyone will be able to step up to a cheese counter confidently. Werlin is a thorough and patient teacher and as a result, I think that readers interested in learning about this fun and rapidly changing category of good food will find this book an engaging guide.

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Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials: An Insider’s Guide to Buying and Serving Cheese
by Laura Werlin  with photographs by Maren Caruso
Stewart, Tabori and Chang   272 pages  $24.95

 

The Cheese Lover’s Companion: The Ultimate A-Z Cheese Guide

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The Cheese Lover's CompanionThere are a good many cheese books available these days, and more are coming out all the time. Generally it seems that said cheese books fall into two categories: the lavishly photographed coffee table cheese books and the more information oriented, text-heavy books. Neither type is necessarily better or worse than the other, but each serves a purpose. Cheese Lover’s Companion falls into the latter category: bare bones on production (it’s a small paperback book with no photographs) but long on comprehensive information about cheese.

As others have pointed out, one of the nice aspects of this book is that it is organized alphabetically rather than – as many cheese books are – by cheese type or by nationality. If you want to look up Camembert, you look under C and you want to look up Gjetost, you look under G – very simple. That being said, the book also includes a glossary that cross references cheeses by milk type and by country, so you’re covered if you can only remember  a cheese by the country it’s from, or the fact that something you once liked was a sheep’s milk cheese. Also included is a cheese descriptor glossary, which is helpful for those of us searching for words to describe a grassy/herby/nutty taste or pasty/crusty/velvety texture.

I’m a sucker for a good cheese book and I’m finding this one to be quite a useful reference guide. It’s largely Europe-focused, although you can find entries covering some of the larger US makers like Rogue Creamery or Cypress Grove Chevre and their various cheeses. This guide works best if you are, say, trying a particular type of cheese like a Tallegio and want to learn where it’s from and more about its production….or if you are curious what’s meant by the word “lactic” when applied to cheese. It’s not absolutely comprehensive, and cheese geeks will note that it doesn’t list a number of their more coveted varieties. Still, it’s a practical starter guide for someone who wants to learn more about cheese but doesn’t know where to begin – or a great companion on a tasting trip to your local cheese shop.

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The Cheese Lover’s Companion: The Ultimate A-Z Cheese Guide
by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst
William Morrow $16.95 paperback

 

Atlas of American Artisan Cheese

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Atlas of American Artisan CheeseTarentaise. Constant Bliss. Wabash Cannonball. If these names aren’t familiar right now, they may soon be. Jeffrey Roberts’ new book, Atlas of American Artisan Cheese, is the key to unlocking the mystery of these and hundreds more American artisan cheeses.

All over the country otherwise reasonable people have been seized with the notion that it might be fun to make cheese. This impressive new book is at once a bible, catalog and record of this movement, which has blossomed into an artisan cheese renaissance in the United States.

The Atlas profiles nearly 350 makers of cheese from almost every state, with most entries providing photos of farms and cheese along with contact and visitor information. One can only imagine the time and energy it took to compile this information – just pondering the scope of the task is exhausting! Artisan cheesemakers are something of a moving target, with small operations appearing, morphing and evolving all the time; several additional cheesemakers in the Northwest, for example, have emerged even since Roberts compiled his information. The continued growth of this emerging and dynamic industry only underscores the importance of this book.

What I really like about Atlas of American Artisan Cheese is the way it conveys not just facts or information but snapshots of the stories behind the cheese. For some, cheesemaking is the realization of a lifelong dream, for others it started as a retirement project. Dairy economics and the preservation of the family farm are also repeated themes. So in the end you’ll find that this book is not just a list of cheese made in the United States, but also a cultural and historical record of a food movement. Cheese is both food and a story, a tangible record of a place and the people that made it.

Really, cheese names aren’t mysteries – they’re just flavors and stories you’ve yet to discover. Atlas of American Artisan Cheese is your passport and tour guide on that very pleasurable journey.

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Atlas of American Artisan Cheese by Jeffrey P. Roberts
with forewords by Carlo Petrini and Alison Hooper
Chelsea Green Publishing Co.
paperback  400 pages  $35

Buy Atlas of American Artisan Cheese from Amazon.com

Interview: Laura Werlin

Laura Werlin is a cheese expert and author of several books about cheese, including The New American Cheese, The All-American Cheese and Wine Book, and Great Grilled Cheese. Laura was in Seattle recently speaking at the Seattle Cheese Festival . . . I was able to talk with her for a few minutes about artisan cheese in the Northwest and her forthcoming book Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials.

The New American Cheese | Laura WerlinYour book The New American Cheese broke new ground in its celebration of domestic cheesemakers.  How did that book come about?

I’d been in TV news for quite awhile and had had enough, so when I quit TV I started making moves toward food writing. Shortly after making that transition to writing, I realized that it was cheese that I wanted to write about because I was really fascinated about it.

I decided to write about American cheese specifically in large part because I was inspired by the great cheese being made in Northern California where I live. And I realized that what was happening there was happening all over the country. . . . I knew I had to write about it.

I called the book “The NEW American Cheese” because we think of American Cheese as individual slices wrapped in plastic and I wanted to highlight that there’s much more to it than that!

In the last few years there’s been a sort of artisan cheese renaissance going on, both in the Northwest and all over the country. How do you see that evolving over the next few years?

I think that cheesemaking is kind of a chicken and egg situation, in that there is more and more desire on the part of the consumer to shop for artisan cheese –  and so if that desire continues in that direction (and that move is really still in its infancy) then the need for more cheesemakers will grow and so on.

As we hear the phrase ‘carbon footprint’ bandied about more and more, we want to go closer to home to get our food. And certainly cheese falls into that area.

There’s certainly a lot of fuel expended to get French cheese to the US…

Right. And even if you live in Oregon or Washington and you want Vermont cheese, it’s the same issue.

Cheese Essentials | Laura WerlinYou have a new book coming out later this year called Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials. Can you talk a little bit about it?

The basic premise of Cheese Essentials is to simplify cheese. I believe that all cheeses fall into one of eight categories. I set out to define those categories in very simple terms…I think that if you know the basic characteristics of, say, a soft ripened brie-like cheese you know how all brie-like cheeses are going to taste. Not exactly, of course, but you won’t be surprised either.

Likewise, I defined a category that you don’t see defined too often by cheese retailers and that’s the surface ripened or “wrinkly rind” cheeses. Those are a little different than soft ripened cheeses in flavor, character and texture, and there are cheeses that fall into that category and fall into no other – kind of like umami.

It’s much the same way with wine. You can try a California Cabernet for example; you taste it and you get an idea of what cabernet tastes like. But I’ll bet if you tried one from Washington it will be a bit different, and this winemaker from California will be a bit different from that winemaker and so on. You can’t know exactly what a particular cab is going to taste like until you taste it, but you do know what to expect from cabernet in general. So that’s what I’m saying about cheese.

Also, I like to use recipes because Americans in particular are very practical. We want to know how to use our cheese, we don’t necessarily sit down and enjoy cheese on its own. Also, there are lots of dishes that are meant to have cheese in them, and why not use a good cheese if it’s going to make a difference in the final dish?

Were you ever formally trained as a chef?

I wasn’t, I was just an avid home cook. That’s why I wanted to write about food, I just love food and I love to cook it. I was lucky in the sense that a passion and a trend collided.

Are there any particular cheeses/cheesemakers from the Pacific Northwest that strike you as particularly good or worth mentioning?

There are so many new cheesemakers up here that I am not familiar with some of the newer ones. I think Juniper Grove Farm makes amazing cheese. I learned of a new one just recently – Ancient Heritage Dairy in Oregon. They’d only been in business five weeks when I tried their cheese but it was just delicious. I have liked what Willamette Valley Cheese Co. has done, I really like their milk source, it really comes through in the cheese. I really like the Beecher’s Flagship Reserve as well, and I will always like Cougar Gold. The Port Madison Chevre is really delicious too, very light and fresh.

I think the most remarkable thing is that artisan cheesemakers everywhere are getting better and better, they’re not just putting out cheese. Americans are becoming less and less tolerant of mediocre cheese.

The Definitive Guide to Canadian Artisanal and Fine Cheese

Canadian Artisanal Cheese | Steve JenkinsSteve Jenkins’ Cheese Primer, an otherwise comprehensive guide to the world’s cheeses, inexplicably devotes two pages to Canadian cheese. Jenkins opens his Canada section (such as it is) by curtly saying: “Though one would expect that a country as big as Canada would be home to a great many cheesemaking facilities and a prodigious quantity of cheese, it is not.”

Gurth Pretty’s new book, The Definitive Guide to Canadian Artisanal and Fine Cheese, proves that there is, indeed, a flourishing artisan cheese industry in Canada. Organized by province, the Guide catalogs  hundreds of cheesemakers and their cheeses from British Columbia to Nova Scotia and everywhere in between. Entries provide a brief synopsis for each cheesemaker, list each cheese made by the artisan, as well as providing additional information such as regional travel and sightseeing tips. Though the profiles are brief, the sheer breadth and scope of this encyclopedia is a momentous achievement.

But just who is Gurth Pretty, and what compelled him to write this book? Toronto based Pretty is a professional chef who has worked variously in restaurants and as a private chef. He’s currently serving as a culinary ambassador of sorts with his most recent venture, Epicurean Expeditions, a service that provides private parties, consulting and corporate workshops. The book evolved out of a visit to a specialty food market in Montreal three years ago. At the shop, Pretty happened to notice a guide to the cheeses of Quebec called Repertoire des fromages du Quebec. He wondered if a book existed chronicling cheesemakers from other Canadian provinces . . . and the answer was no. That initial curiosity evolved into several years of research, travel and networking with fellow food professionals, and the book was finally released in October of this year. While he says that his first goal was simply to attempt to capture the state of cheesemaking in Canada, his secondary goal was to discover more about Canada in the process, because “through food you discover the people.”

I asked Pretty how he felt about the state of Canadian artisan cheesemaking in relation to the US. He noted that, like the US, Canada is currently experiencing an artisan cheese renaissance. “Canada’s smaller population, more agricultural economy and French background all contribute to a great appreciation for cheese in any form,” he said. The cheesemaking industry is particularly strong in Quebec,  the province with the most cheesemakers in Canada. Quebec also hosts the Warwick Cheese Festival, a grand annual celebration of all things fromage.

Pretty intends to continue to collect information about Canadian cheesemakers for future editions of the book. It’s interesting to note that this book is one of two comprehensive cheese guides coming out in 2006-7; The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese by Jeff Roberts and Carlo Petrini will be issued in June of ’07. Taken together, these two books will be instrumental in documenting the thriving, expanding artisan cheesemaking industry in North America. Never again will anyone be able to ignore the multitudes of artisan cheesemakers in their own back yard.

For those interested in learning more about Canadian cheeses, Pretty offered a couple of recommendations:

First, take a trip to Western British Columbia, where you can easily make a weekend of visiting cheesemakers in and around Vancouver, BC.  Salt Spring Island Cheese Co. and Moonstruck Organic Cheeses are both located on Salt Spring Island (a short ferry ride from mainland BC); in addition, there are several cheesemakers on nearby Vancouver Island, including Hilary’s Fine Cheeses, Natural Pastures Cheese Co., and Little Qualicum Cheeseworks.

Second, take a trip to Quebec City (a small town in eastern Quebec), where you can visit at least six cheesemakers including Fromagerie Cote de Beaupre, Le Fromages de l’Isle d’Orleans, and Fromagerie des Ameriques.

Alternatively, he also recommends sampling some or all of the following cheeses: Le Baluchon, a semi-soft washed rind cheese; Oka, Canada’s oldest commercially produced cheese (dating back to the nineteenth century) and a great aged Canadian cheddar (and by aged, he recommends between 7 and 12 years).

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Gurth Pretty will be reading at Barbara Jo’s Books to Cooks in Vancouver, BC on Wednesday, November 22nd.  See the Barbara Jo’s Books to Cooks website for more information.

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A Definitive Guide to Canadian Artisanal and Fine Cheeses
by Gurth Pretty
Whitecap Books $29.95

available online at Powells.com here