Top positive review
44 people found this helpful
Cheese Sophistication; (not the Cheese 101 freshman class)
on October 22, 2013
I've been working with this cookbook for almost two months now. I wasn't so hot on it at the beginning because I had my heart set on mac 'n cheese. The title of this cookbook is more than a bit misleading: This book is not all about "melt" or "mac", but it is all about cheese and cheese pairings. So it took a while for my heart to come around to where my brain and tummy already were. I'm all together now, so you are seeing a five-star rating and not a three or four.
UPDATE Dec. 30, 2013: I just felt compelled to come back to this review and make a few comments: I'm still enjoying this book. I am surprised by just how much I am learning about cheese--my husband, too. We're having a lot of fun with this book. I think it has something to do with the way the authors teach and coax the reader to try a new cheese. I think it also has something to do with the sidebars that the authors include along with each recipe: There are all kinds of suggestions and alternatives that make it easy to walk into a cheese shop or over to the cheese counter at your local grocery store and pick up something new. And, I find it interesting that I'm remembering so many of the recipes that I read through without making.
TO THOSE OF YOU WHO THINK THESE RECIPES ARE TOO TIME-CONSUMING: There are shortcuts you can take. I admit that, on occasion, I sidestep on the recipes' use of white sauces: When we want comfort food fast, I often cook my pasta in 2% milk, then after the pasta is cooked and I have a low-cal creamy milky sauce from the starch the pasta has released, I add the cheese. You won't find that recipe in this book: 2 C large mac, 2 C milk, 2 T butter, a little salt; bring to a bubble, stir often, done in about 20 minutes. But, the point is, I can create a dish based on what I learned in this book: For instance, last night I removed hot Italian sausage from its casing and sauteed it, then tossed in pear and red onion to heat and soften, plus extra fennel seeds. In another pot, and at the same time, I made my (cheaters') creamy mac, then with the pan off the heat, cut in a small wedge of Cambozola (picked up at my local large chain grocery store). Not including the minimal prep work and working both pans at once, it only took 25 minutes before I was mounding the mac and cheese in one side of the bowl and the sweet, hot sausage mixture in the other side. BACK TO MY ORIGINAL REVIEW:
So, here's the scoop and the story: If you are looking for recipes for mac 'n cheese as you've come to know it, this might not be the book you are looking for: Only about half the recipes deal with comforting, melting cheese sauce and pasta. In the first half of the book you will find cheese crumbled, cubed, grated on salads and such. To find so many recipes that are NOT mac 'n cheese combos is more than a bit disconcerting. If you accept the first chapters for what they are--and not what you expect them to be--you will come to appreciate the flavor combinations and grow to love the flavor of all kinds of cheese. The first chapters (first half of the book) seem to provide a good basis for understanding individual flavors so that you can finesse the flavors together into sublime hot dishes in the final chapters. (Plus, it gives you cheese dishes for summertime.) Be aware that there are a lot of goat milk cheeses in this book; I mention it because so many people are not fans of goat cheese.
If you are looking for a way to strike up an interesting conversation and talk intelligently to your favorite cheese monger, this book will get you there, If you are looking to wow your guests, if you are looking for an insightful guide to cheeses, if you are yearning to try the wedges you see at your grocery store's specialty cheese counter, but you are too overwhelmed and a bit leery to make a choice, this is your book!
This book is much more than groupings of recipes. I think the best way to use this book is as an instruction guide, as its authors are top-notch, knowledgeable instructors. You can really grow with this book. Expand your horizons! I know I have. I started out thinking that I'd never find most of these cheeses at my grocery store. (I do live out in the boonies and I do need to travel 35 minutes to get to a good, competitive grocery store chain,) You will not find these cheeses at small and poorly-stocked stores. On the other hand, you will see some simple cheeses in this book as well: There is a recipe for homemade paneer, as one example.
But I did find a few of the cheeses called for in these recipes, and I did find some that were listed as substitutions--and that set me free to learn and experiment. After two months with this book, we are now traveling up into the city (an hour's ride) to visit with a cheese monger at a store with a large cheese section. We plan ahead, stretch our budget (the cheeses in this book are (for the most part) not inexpensive) and only buy the amount we need--actually a bit less--but we are learning about cheeses.
About the book's layout and style: You will have to wait until the second half of the book to find comforting, smooth and gooey and stringy and creamy melted cheese. The recipes in the first half will work to introduce you to many cheeses and cheese pairings, by way of room-temp cheese being incorporated into or tossed with fruits, veggies, meats. Page layout in this book is easy to follow so that your eye travels effortlessly from page to work area and back again; type is large enough and dark enough to read without squinting; color photos are plentiful and show finished dishes. The index is superlative and very helpful if you don't have a firm handle on the names of all the cheeses: You can find what you are looking for by type, region, texture, milk, etc. Instructions are very helpful and illuminating. Substitutions and other food pairings are included for each recipe.
The introductions to each recipe talk to you with a light sophisticated style. They are so well-written and interesting that it is a delight to turn each page anticipating the next entry.
When you do reach the cheese sauce recipes, you will find that the authors stick with the tried-and-true technique for a mornay sauce (create a roux , then add milk, then add cheese), and pasta is cooked until al dente in large quantities of water. You will not find any recipes calling for pasta cooked in milk. There is a recipe for a gluten-free roux.
YOU CAN STOP READING HERE, as I've covered the basis for my five-star rating above. But if you are undecided about this book and want to learn more, keep on reading:
Although you can substitute well-known, readily available cheeses, you will not find many common cheeses in the ingredient lists of this book. Here, you will find artisan cheeses from all across the US, plus beautiful not-so-familiar cheeses from Europe, too. If you anticipate substituting more often than not, be forewarned that you will be missing out on more than half of the value of this book: You will not experience the variety and nuances in cheeses. Don't forget: This is not the 101 class....
The book encourages creativity through its many suggestions for variations: There are different toppings, different compatible pairings of fruits, herbs, spices; substitutions for cheeses and different artisan dairies; various wines and more. As is usual in my cookbook reviews, I've listed some of my favorite recipes, and some still on my bucket list:
I'll start with the recipe that compelled me to buy this book (after reviewing it courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley): Blue cheese tossed with roasted (w/ honey and sage butter) delicata squash, pecans, and rotini.
--Grilled marinated peaches with orzo, herbs, pistachios and goat cheese; (They've included the entire recipe for this dish in the "Look Inside" feature; guess we all like it!)
--A Caprese pasta salad with buffalo mozzarella;
--A rotini pasta salad with edamame, fennel and goat cheese; (also in "Look Inside")
--Baked camembert with pears and shell pasta; (also in "Look Inside")
--Paneer, pineapple and cucumber pasta salad; (also in "Look Inside")
--Radicchio, mango and mozzarella with cavatappi;
--Chocolate pasta with Bucherondin, hazelnuts and cherries;
--A summer pasta salad with onion, queso fresco, pineapple, mango, peaches, strawberries and jalepeno;
--Soba noodles with Parmesan and pan-seared brussels sprouts;
--A mornay sauce with Lincolnshire Poacher (a mild English cheddar)tossed with (Mexican) cotija, chorizo and penne, then baked;
--Pumpkin stuffed with fontina, italian sausage and mac--this is heavenly;
--A pasta fritatta with taleggio, mushrooms and truffle oil;
--Buffalo chicken macaroni with buttermilk blue cheese sauce: This has several steps and is a bit involved, but it tastes just as it sounds. It is a show-stopper!
--Cauliflower and gruyere and mac gratin;
--A sweet potato kugel
**I am posting this review on the day that this book was released to the public. I am able to do so because I've been working with a temporary download of the book for about two months. The download was courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley. I like the book so much I bought my own copy.