Booked on Cheddar
Author explores America’s most popular cheese
As the cheese industry grows, a steady stream of new books continues. From themes focused on science and cheesemaking to glossy coffee table books devoted to the sensory enjoyment of this fascinating food, books on cheese have been a boon to an industry that, after many years of only a few solid, well-researched efforts, there are now almost too many on the shelf to count.
Still, every so often, a book appears shedding new light on a subject most of us never really thought too much about. “Cheddar: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Most Iconic Cheese” by cheesemonger and author Gordon Edgar, is such a find.
This book tackles a mammoth subject with Edgar’s characteristic depth, wit and quirky style, honed in his previous book, “Cheesemonger: Life on the Wedge,” (Chelsea Green, 2010), about his life as a cheese buyer for Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in San Francisco.
The narrative is part cheese history, part social critique and part road trip memoir, a result of Edgar’s quest to answer his own questions about cheddar, America’s most popular cheese for 150 years.
His second book has an even wider appeal that will undoubtedly reach beyond the cheese fans fond of the glossy, beauty shot-laden photo books. It challenges readers on a more scholarly level and includes critiques and supporting perspectives from many of the brightest minds in the cheese world.
The book traces the trajectory of cheddar through its roots in southwest England through the industrialization of cheese in American factories and the inevitable advantages and compromises inherent in producing cheddar today in its varied forms.
There is no sacred cow here. His research stretches from fresh cheese curds to massive industrial 640-pound blocks untouched by human hands during production, to bandage-wrapped, cave-aged artisan wheels to processed cheese food. All of it cheddar, and, as he points out, all of it good food to someone.
It is refreshing to hear him acknowledge that most can’t afford spendy, ultra-fancy cheese, and that there is room for Velveeta in the great arc of cheddar.
Over the course of several years’ research, the author traveled the country, making pilgrimages to the great regions of cheddar production: New York, Wisconsin, Vermont and, of course, Oregon.
With every destination, a bit more of the puzzle is filled in and there are ah-ha moments illuminating just how we went from traditional to valuing processed, efficient cheeses with consistent flavor and little soul and the long road back again.
The book, delightful and thought-provoking, meanders down paths and into corners many other authors might gloss over, if they even notice at all. The history presented feels truly of the moment, diving deep into the changes in agriculture, technology, food science, policy and regulation and the changing needs and tastes reflected through the lens of “the people’s cheese.”
This book will give you more than enough to nosh on and you’ll be amazed by all you didn’t know there was to know about this remarkable cheese.
Here are just a few wines that pair well with cheddar.
We automatically think of red wine with cheese, but it can struggle, particularly with a sharp, well-matured cheddar. Intensely fruity Cabernet Sauvignons work especially well, but watch the tannins. Often a bottle with bottle-aged two or three years will work better than a young one.
A barrel-aged Chardonnay is surprisingly delicious with a strong cheddar, bringing out the mellowness in the cheese and the fruitiness of the wine.
An earthy, aged cheddar pairs brilliantly with Port-style wines, bringing out the nutty and creamy characteristics in the cheese. The two paired together are almost satisfying enough to be a meal.