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Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager Hardcover – November 17, 2009
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Starred Review. Cheese experts McCalman and Gibbons already have two James Beard awards for previous fromage-focused tomes (Cheese, The Cheese Plate); this outstanding examination of the subject could nab them another. Regardless, it should be required reading for any cheese-lover. The duo start slowly and distantly, with Sumerians, Mesopotamians, and suggestions for the contemporary cheeses that recall the food's earliest versions. After explanations of the cheese making process and tips for detecting flavors and determining ripeness, the two roll up their sleeves and attack cheese in all forms and locales. Suggested tastings are frequent and varied, enabling readers to sample at their own pace as they familiarize themselves with different styles and regions. Even those in the business are sure to pick up a few pointers: tips on the art of preparing a cheese trolley, structuring a tasting, and sophisticated topics like the debate over pasteurized and raw milk. Sample menus give readers a painless introduction to the symphonic pairings of a single wine or beer as well as a multi-wine, multi-cheese event. McCalman and Gibbons prove anything but snobby, employing a down-to-earth, encouraging tone and an egalitarian approach to taste, encouraging readers to eat what they like, not necessarily hunt down "the best."
About the Author
MAX MCCALMAN is America's first restaurant-based Maître Fromager and a Garde et Juré, as designated by France's Guilde des Fromagers. He established the critically acclaimed cheese programs at New York City's Picholine and Artisanal Brasserie & Fromagerie restaurants. He is Dean of Curriculum at Artisanal Premium Cheese Center in New York and is a highly visible advocate for artisanal cheese production around the world.
DAVID GIBBONS has collaborated on many books, including two with McCalman: The Cheese Plate, which was nominated for James Beard and IACP awards in 2003, and Cheese, which won a James Beard Award in 2006.
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Not only that, the authors apply a similar rigor when they describe what kind of wine, or even beer, goes best with which cheese selection. Hence, when we read about a certain cheese tasting best at such and such a stage, if to taste or not taste the rind, and even how to get the most out of the tasting experience itself, it is from that authoritative knowledge base that the recommendations are being made!
Ergo: this is no work by some amateur who likes cheese, and decides to write a book about it. Nor is it a cheese "phone book" which lists x-hundred cheeses from across the globe, then describing them in endless repetitions as "flowery", "mushroomy" and "creamy". No, in this book such judgments are applied very specifically, and with precision. They go back to personal conversations with key fromagers, a solid scientific understanding of dairy processing and the bio-molecular foundations of taste science, and an enormous personal experience with the described cheeses that also can afford to warn of mistakes, misconceptions and what not to do. And where you are lucky enough to taste a cheese described in this book, you will devotedly sample it yourself and decide, licking your chops: hmmm... McCalman is definitely correct!
In addition, the author(s) engage the culinary and presentational aspects just as authoritatively. With a true artist's touch, and again based on the above noted knowledge and experience, they advise on how to put together meaningful sampling plates, what else to put on it and for what purpose, and how to present it all in a way that delights even the most critical eyes. The pictures in the book will inspire the most discerning host in how to impress even terribly spoiled guests.
In my book shelves, this has quickly become the authority and repeatedly consulted reference on one of my personal passions: exquisitely sublime cheese. In this case, God did bless America, and just in time!
I've spent just a few hours with my newly acquired copy and am already certain I will be spending much, much more time with the book. There is plenty here to absorb. A brief history of cheesemaking. An outline of the basic steps in making various styles of cheese. The many elements of "terroir" and their effect on the texture, appearance and flavor of various cheeses. The basic "palette" of cheese flavors and aromas and the chemical compounds responsible for them, along with a glossary of common descriptive terms. Principles for mixing and matching cheeses for a cheese plate. Brief overviews of the cheeses of France, Italy, Switzerland, Britain, the U.S. and other dairy and cheesemaking regions. There is extensive discussion about the growing number of New World artisanal cheeses being made in Oregon, Washington, California, Vermont and elsewhere. A short review like this simply cannot begin to summarize the wealth of information included in this book. In the short time I've spent with it I'm sure I have come nowhere near to taking it all in.
This is the most comprehensive, attractive and readable guide to cheese I have ever seen in the English language. McCalman presents it all with the fervor of a lover and true believer. Above all, he is a powerful advocate for small scale, artisanal cheese production, for restoring the character and diversity of real cheese. As McCalman says in the early going, some people are fortunate enough to find their true calling in life, and he found it in the world of cheese. McCalman is a man with a mission to teach us all about the vast array of cheeses made around the world, how to enjoy them in their peak condition and to appreciate all their nuances. This is his magnum opus.
The book is as rich, creamy and full of life as a perfectly ripe and runny Vacherin Mont d'Or, as dense and mouthfilling as the very best Salers. If you really care about cheese and want to expand your knowledge and horizons, you want to own this book.
I've previously reviewed McCalman's "Cheese, A Connoisseur's Guide," something of a coffee table guide to a rather limited selection of cheeses, marred, in my view, by McCalman's resort to a Robert Parker-like 'point scoring' system that seemed to make no sense at all. This book has no such faults or flaws. It is the book to buy.
Just two teeny quibbles: First, I probably could do without the little "chapter reviews" at the end of each chapter. Yes, these are posited as "lessons," but let's not get too pedagogical! Second, and more of a bother, there does not seem to be a bibliography, although McCalman does refer to a number of other books and I assume he did go to other sources for a lot of the information contained here. I'd love to have a list of sources and the ability to seek them out, as this book successfully piqued my interest in learning more.
This is sweating the small stuff, however; perhaps both points can be addressed in a second edition someday. As it is, this is a really wonderful resource on the subject of cheese.
Sewn binding, top-quality paper, beautiful photographs, great design and layout. Just top quality, similar to Rizzoli art museum books. Beautiful, heavy in the hand, substantial. The artful nature of the book itself lends credence to its topic of fine cheeses. Really fun!
The book is just brimming with delightful, educative material and photos that are really just good enough to eat. I've learned a lot about the cheeses I've been familiar with, and I've also discovered so much about new cheeses both foreign and domestic. I still reference this book when it comes to picking out new cheeses at my local store.
Pick this up if you need more cheese in your life!