One of the reasons traveling by plane is so great is that you get to catch up on all the reading you’ve been meaning to do. For me, that usually means books about restaurants, food, and wine. On my recent trip to Louisiana to visit family, I brought along a book that I discovered on Jeanne Carpenter's Cheese Underground. The book is called Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge by Gordon Edgar, which chronicles the life of Edgar as it pertains to his personal experiences with cheese and cheese-makers.
I admire Edgar because he started with basically no cheese knowledge, fudging his way through his initial interview. He was a punk rocker in his youth going from job to job when the opportunity arose at Rainbow where he eventually rose to the position of buyer. He managed to get out a few buzz words that made the folks hiring him think that he knew a little something about cheese like “rennet” and “raw.” The rest is history.
It’s fun to read about how his passion for cheese began from his first experience tasting an aged Gruyere, which also happens to be one of my favorite cheeses. In fact, I identified with Edgar on a lot of levels while I was reading this book. He makes his passion for cheese obvious from his descriptions of them nearly make your mouth water.
There are plenty of anecdotes about crazy customers that he has dealt with over the years in his co-op grocery. I would love to meet him in person and swap some stories over a beer and some runny stinky cheese. By the way he writes, I imagine him to be a really down-to-earth kinda guy. His style is easy to read and takes on a conversational tone that is often laugh-out-loud funny.
Don’t let me lead you to believe that the book is meant to be frivolous and full of fluff, however. Though his stories are often laced with humor, he writes passionately about issues such as raw verses pasteurized milk, the Food and Drug Administration, import/export laws for cheese, environmental concerns, politics past and present, dietary trends, and health issues. He also includes some really great information about specific cheese at the end of each chapter. He describes them, and often the cheese-makers in detail. And for curd nerds like me, there is plenty of hardcore technical information presented in an approachable manner that previous books often fail to deliver.
I’d say this is a great read for anyone with a passion for the world of food. Those who have studied cheese in depth already will appreciate the social issues addressed and the detailed descriptions of artisanal cheese. Cheese novices will find plenty of recommendations of how to start tackling the oft-perceived intimidating world of cheese and will draw inspiration from Edgar’s humble beginning. Either way, the humorous vignettes are fun to read and it’s a book worth having in your library for the occasion of travel or a cold New England winter night spent with your Snuggie and a bottle of wine and of course, some delicious fromage.