“There were cheeses with wild mulberry leaves pressed into their tops; cheese bound with rushes; cheeses covered in ashes, in cumin, in raisins, in bits of grape skin…”
Kathe Lison is definitely a Gypsy of the food world. When she discovered the literally hundreds of cheeses made in France (a number no one can agree on, not even General de Gaulle, it seems) she wanted to find out more. I would been content just to drive around France sampling them all, but Lison wrote this book as well, and opens the gates of Paradise to other cheeseheads.
Right away I started learning new cheese stuff – for example Colby, which is sold here in Australia as Australian cheese, comes from Colby in Wisconsin. Lison should know – she hails from Wisconsin and a family history of dairying. I learned that putting cheese in the freezer is “an act of murder” – not that I ever would do such a thing!
Lison’s journey starts in the Auvergne, with a paean of praise for the Salers cow, which is certainly charming to look at, and a French punk wearing a Metallica tshirt and biker boots, herding a handful of these cows. Many of Lison’s word pictures are delightful, and her stories of cheesemakers are often quite touching, like Justine, who lost two of her sons as babies, and two in WWI; and the story of the epitome of the arisanal sheep’s milk cheesemaker, who refuses to use plastic molds and milks his sheep by hand.
But this odyssey through romantic districts and the cheeses they produce is really for those fascinated by cheese making history and the characters it attracts. It is not really for those who just love to eat and cook with cheese. It gave me inspiration for cheeses to track down, but I’ll have to find the recipes elsewhere.