9780061451164

The Cheese Chronicles

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780061451164

  • ISBN10:

    0061451169

  • Edition: Original
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-11-30
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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Summary

The Cheese Chroniclesis an insider's look at the burgeoning world of American cheese from one lucky person who has seen more wedges and wheels, visited more cheesemakers, and tasted more delicious (and occasionally stinky) American cheese than anyone else. Liz Thorpe, second in command at New York's renowned Murray's Cheese, has used her notes and conversations from hundreds of tastings spanning nearly a decade to fashion this odyssey through the wonders of American cheese. Offering more than eighty profiles of the best, the most representative, and the most important cheesemakers, Thorpe chronicles American cheesemaking from the brave foodie hobbyists of twenty years ago (who put artisanal cheese on the map) to the carefully cultivated milkers and makers of today. Thorpe travels to the nation's cheese farms and factories, four-star kitchens and farmers' markets, bringing you along for the journey. In her quest to explore cheesemaking, she high-lights the country's greatest cheeses and concludes that today's cheesemakers can help provide more nourishing and sensible food for all Americans. Steve Jenkins, author of the celebrated Cheese Primer, calls this "the best book about cheese you'll ever read." The Cheese Chroniclesis a cultural history of an industry that has found breakout success and achieved equal footing with its European cousins.

Excerpts

The Cheese Chronicles
A Journey Through the Making and Selling of Cheese in America, From Field to Farm to Table

Chapter One

Mecca

In food circles there are two restaurants for which the highest reverence and shiveriest awe are reserved, and both happen to be located in the San Francisco Bay area. The first is the womb from which truly seasonal and fiercely local cooking sprang, Alice Waters's famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley. I've never actually eaten there, but the dozens of tales from friends and colleagues, waxing poetic about its worn floors, fraying rugs, down-home service, and pristinely fresh ingredients give me a picture. It is said to be the perfect marriage of simple, unpretentious fare and impeccable ingredients: tiny, pulpy beets, spider-thin carrots, and bristly boughs of rosemary, all plucked from nearby gardens in the heavy, moist predawn fog for which the area is known.

The counterpart of this suburban landmark is the Napa Valley, Michelin-three-starred temple presided over by Chef Thomas Keller: the French Laundry, my most prestigious wholesale client. I had flown out one February weekend after several years of weekly phone calls and countless shipments of our best cheeses from around the globe. I was there to teach a cheese class for the entire staff, both front and back of the house, and my reward was dinner in one of the restaurant's precious few seats. Teaching is de rigueur for clients in New York, where a staff training requires a few nubbins of cheese and my handout on the major styles into which they are categorized.

But this was the French Laundry, and as with all things Keller, the stakes were considerably higher. A year earlier, New York had seen the opening of the French Laundry East, officially called Per Se, because the philosophies, practices, and even the famous blue front door were inspired by Napa, though it wasn't exactly the French Laundry per se. And so my frame of reference was built on the things I saw in the restaurant at the Time Warner Center. Per Se was opened, to much gossip and disbelief, with a $10 million kitchen so vast and spotless that nearly every New Yorker I know would happily have lived there and enjoyed seven times the space they had ever known in an apartment. When, a mere month into service, a kitchen fire caused Per Se to close down, its legions of chefs were shuttled off to stage at the city's best kitchens: Daniel, Jean-Georges, Le Bernardin, while Per Se continued to pay their salaries and reportedly invested an additional $2 million to fix up its smoke and water-damaged back of the house.

Despite the cavernous rooms, it is the quietest kitchen I've ever been in, mountains of shrimp efficiently peeled, lobes of foie gras silently deveined, dozens and dozens of cooks in immaculate starched whites who look up only to say hello when you enter or assent, "Yes, Chef, coming right up, Chef" when a superior requests anything. In the main kitchen there is a wall-mounted television screen with a satellite link to the kitchen at the French Laundry, where, even at 10 a.m. EST, a few bodies can be glimpsed, moving around the Yountville, California, home base. Per Se's chef de cuisine, Jonathan Benno, has always reminded me of a monk with his shining bald head, but there's more than a whiff of army general about him. The place runs like a machine. Famously, every carton and container, every mise en place, is neatly labeled in black marker on white masking tape. And the tape must not be ripped by hand. It is always cut with scissors, so the ends are even, the tags orderly.

Driving the meandering roads to Napa, I was all disorderly glee. I was alone! In Napa for the first time! My good friend James, who has been known to play around in his Chinatown apartment turning out wild duck dinners (watch the buckshot) and handmade ravioli bulging around a wobbly, liquid egg center, was due in that night to join me for a weekend of wine tasting, long boozy lunches, and, of course, The Dinner. The class I was there to conduct was a tiny dollop of crème fraîche on the sheer, glorious indulgence of the whole visit. I love teaching and was looking forward to meeting Cory, Adam, Devon, all these polite young men who talked cheese with me every week. That first day, though, my only task was a drive down windy streets alongside knobbly black grapevines tightly laced, like lumpy licorice, to vineyard trellises. In February, Napa is mild and moist, and the head of each vine row sports chamomile that flowers in effervescent sprays of yellow sunshine. Shoving my arm out the window, I snapped photos on my cell phone. They're all blurry mist, sharp vines and lemony clouds, which is how I always think of Napa.

I wasn't due in the kitchen until the following afternoon, but I drove down the main street of Yountville, past Bistro Jeanty, with its recommended rabbit patés and gluey pigs' feet, to Keller's Bouchon Bakery and Bouchon, where I planned the next day to get warm, buttery croissants and coffee with hot milk for breakfast, followed by oysters and steak frites for lunch. Farther down, Washington Street dead-ends at a playground. Somehow I had missed the illustrious French Laundry. When I doubled back, at the corner was an ordinary brown stone building, partially hidden behind a porch and deck supporting climbing, leafy vines. The bronze sign announcing the restaurant is embedded in stone, making it nearly impossible to read through spitty midwinter drizzle. This was it! The French Laundry! It looked, well, like a Swiss chalet mated with a French roadhouse.

The kitchen can be accessed in three ways. The easiest is through the back door, which opens onto a driveway like the one you might have had growing up. It's shared, in fact, with the house that Thomas Keller lives in, so his commute averages about twenty seconds. The kitchen is small but bright, with windows that open onto a patio where diners have been known to take a few lurching laps halfway through the infamous ten-course tasting menus. On sunny mornings the whole room is puddled in golden light, and though the satellite screen is there, it lacks the Big Brotherness of New York. Chefs aren't exactly bumping into one another, but there's efficiency as in a ship's galley, with everything at arm's reach, the briny steam of lobster stock happily commingling with roasting pork belly. A few steps out the kitchen door is a miraculously tiny dining room with low ceilings and stone walls, the simple sconces casting a warm, flattering glow. The stairs are creaky, the furniture simple, the tables close enough for the intimacy of shared experience without the unpleasantries of hearing about your neighbors' sex life. It's incredibly cozy.As I was slicing cheese for the forty-person tasting, a body brushed against my back. I was shocked to see bare legs, white elasticized socks, trainers. Who was this guy? Portly belly, meaty hands with wristbands grasping an iPod, T-shirt, and sweatband. "My dear, are you new here?" he asked, grabbing a perfect triangle of cheese. I stammered something genius like "Uh, I'm here to do the cheese class," and then he wandered off through the kitchen, poking into various saucepans as he went. The cook chopping away beside me gave a grin, remarking that the old guy was probably disappointed I wasn't new, because he had a particular fondness for the young ladies. "You'll see him again. He always shows up for staff meal. That's T. K.'s father, Ed."

The Cheese Chronicles
A Journey Through the Making and Selling of Cheese in America, From Field to Farm to Table
. Copyright © by Liz Thorpe . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from The Cheese Chronicles: A Journey Through the Making and Selling of Cheese in America, from Field to Farm to Table by Liz Thorpe
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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