The Cheese Chronicles: A Journey through the Making and Selling of Cheese in America, from Field to Farm to Table
Upon receiving Liz Thorpe’s The Cheese Chronicles, I had to ask myself: Do you really love cheese enough to get through 366 pages of it? The answer, apparently, is yes.
Now, I detest the term foodie. My boyfriend teasingly calls me a foodie in his WASP-iest voice. It seems so pretentious, so elitist, so... stupid. I can’t deny, though, my great love and interest in all things food. I love to cook. I read recipe books like novels while curled up in bed. I could watch the Food Network all day. I can happily spend two hours in a grocery store. I look at food porn. I love to eat. I love to feed people. You get the picture.
I’ve recently come to the conclusion that cheese is my favorite type of food. It is featured in every dish I love to eat and cook, and Thorpe’s loving opus to all things cheese only whet my appetite for this surprisingly scientific food.
Out of the blue, Thorpe decided she wanted a career in cheese and began her journey working behind the counter at the now famous Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City. Since then, the Yale graduate has become the managing director of the shop, where she teaches classes, finds interesting new cheeses, and works with chefs interested in featuring beautiful, American-made dairy on their menu. Thorpe is said to have professionalized the craft of cheese making while also highlighting the incredible love and passion of the people who inhabit it. We’re not talking about commercial operations here, though Thorpe is quick to point out that some of those cheeses are decent as well. The book, however, mostly focuses on small dairy farms located throughout the U.S. that are making some exquisite cheeses.
If you’ve ever seen the offerings at your local chain grocery stores, you’ll understand why cheese making isn’t considered one of America’s strong points in terms of culinary prowess. Simply put, good quality cheese isn’t as important to most Americans as it is to people in other countries. We like American on our burgers and stringy mozzarella on our pizzas, but that’s all changing. As the country becomes more interested in where the food they eat comes from, the want and need for "real" cheese is growing, and so is the average American’s willingness to pay a hefty price for artisanal, locally-made cheese.
The process is tedious, requiring just as much knowledge of science as nature. People of all kinds are making cheese all over the country, and much of it is being sold at local farmer’s markets, never to be experienced by those even one town over. There’s something fantastic about that. Cheese is supposed to be seasonal, but thanks to hormones and a few other tricks, dairy farmers can now milk cows, goats, and sheep year-round, but that’s obviously not what nature intended. Many artisanal cheese makers milk their animals when nature intended, which is just after breeding season when the animal has naturally-made milk to give. The cheese offered by these purveyors is in high demand.
I’ve learned an extraordinary amount about the art—yes, art—of cheese making from The Cheese Chronicles. Unfortunately I cannot afford high end cheese on a regular basis, but after reading Thorpe’s book, I fear I can’t ever go back to the cryovaced cheddar of my youth. When eating cheap, poorly made cheddar cheese, you can taste bile at the back of your throat, a surefire indication the cheese you are eating is shit. Now that you know what that stinging, sour sensation is in your mouth, you can never go back.