Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mastering Cheese by Max McCalman

A cursory read through Max McCalman's new book Mastering Cheese makes me say WOW! I'm so glad that someone has finally taken the time to write an updated reference to take over where Steve Jenkins's Cheese Primer left off.  This book tells you just about everything you need to know about cheese and more for the cheese dork, like me.  It will take me years to digest all of the information contained in this wonderful tome.

Part one contains a discussion of why eating cheese is such a good thing as well as its historical significance and its importance in various societies throughout the ages.  The writing gets quite technical discussing various types of beneficial bacteria that can used to influence the way a cheese ripens and ages as well detailed information on the effects of hand-of-man manipulation during the initial cheese-making process.  I'm really looking forward to going through each chapter with a fine-toothed comb and absorbing as much information as I can.  I was also very happy to see a substantial section devoted to American artisanal producers and the renaissance of cheese culture in this country since I devote such a significant portion of my daily life to thinking about and talking about these things with guests at my restaurant.

In part two, Max gives advice on how to appreciate cheese in a variety of settings, so even if you skip the first part, you can still get a lot out of the book.  He takes you on a tour of a typical artisanal dairy, gives you some advice on purchasing cheese at retail and in restaurants, as well as how to get the most out of your cheese by pairing it with wine, spirits, and beer.  I especially like his pragmatic advice on how to put together the perfect cheese plate for any occasion included in this section:
  • Milder to stronger
  • Younger to older
  • Simpler to more complex flavors
  • Softer to harder (or vice versa)
  • All else being equal, goat, then sheep, followed by cow
  • Natural rind, bloomy rind, washed rind
  • Pasteurized milk followed by raw milk
  • Blue always last
He also offers several structured tastings complete with his own tasting notes for each cheese for you to taste along and compare your own notes.

The third and final section in the book is a compendium of Max's recommendations and tasting notes for the best cheeses from around the world in each style.  Chapters focus on topics like America's Artisans, Switzerland's Best, Stunning Stinkers, and Miraculous Moldies.  There are many cheeses that I have tasted so it will be nice to read someone else's ideas about them, but there are also quite a few that are new to me.  I'm looking forward to heading out to Formaggio Kitchen here in Boston sometime soon to see what I can rustle up in the coming months.

I have quite a project ahead tackling this book and I have Dan to thank for such a fantastic Christmas gift.  If you're at all interested in learning more about cheese, I'm sure you will delight in this new book as I am now.  Happy reading and happier eating!

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