Lessons Learned and Loved
Book Review by Christine Hyatt
I’m always very excited when a truly informative and beautifully written cheese book arrives on the scene. And when it comes to the latest from Max McCalman, “Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager,” the excitement is kicked up a notch.
The first part of the book is an introduction to cheese with a basic background that is essential to understanding on a deeper level, including wonderfully insightful chapters on raw milk and why it matters in cheese production.
Next, McCalman focuses more in depth on farmstead cheese, how to buy and store cheese, and tasting and pairing it.
Finally, he focuses on the great artisan cheeses of the world with a special nod to American artisans, pointing out that “by far the biggest story in the world of real cheese since the turn of the millennium is being written in America.”
This is BIG news.
A mere 10 years ago, he notes “there were only around 20 U.S. cheesemakers who I felt deserved mention alongside the world’s greats. Within eight years, there were nearly four times that number. American artisans have truly arrived.”
While the artisan cheese phenomenon is happening in many regions around the country, McCalman sings the praises of our very own Oregon cheesemakers, citing our fair state as “perhaps the best laboratory for developing artisanal cheeses.”
The reason, he muses, is that it is “home to a forward-looking, ecologically aware population, a small but gifted group of cheese artisans and a history of high-quality dairying.”
In the fall of 2007, while researching his book, McCalman made a whirlwind trip around the state visiting 13 Oregon Cheese Guild members. Accompanied by photographer, tour guide, Rogue Creamery Cheesemaker/Co-owner David Gremmels and me, McCalman experienced first-hand the amazing people crafting cheese from the Willamette Valley, the Coast, Southern Oregon, the high desert and places in between.
This up-close and personal interaction with cheesemakers in their own environment shines through clearly in McCalman’s reverent reviews of Oregon’s various dairies and creameries. And stunning photos of Oregon cheese and cheesemakers add to the book’s impact.
Indeed, in his tasting plate entitled “21st Century U.S. Rock Stars,” three of his six selections are from Oregon (see sidebar).
He reserves a special place of honor for Rogue Creamery, allotting an incredible three-page spread to the creamery’s history and innovative new recipes. He also singles out the Oregon Cheese Guild and Tami Parr’s Pacific Northwest Cheese Project Blog as two of the many things that are making Oregon so highly visible in the realm of fine cheese.
Of particular note and interest for readers of the Oregon Wine Press, is the superlative chapter on pairing wine and cheese. Appropriately subtitled “In Search of Marriages Made in Heaven,” this section displays McCalman’s appreciation for Oregon cheese and wine. In fact, a full-page photo at the beginning of the chapter features Madrone Mountain Applegate Valley Dessert Wine paired with a wedge of blue. Gorgeous and appropriate!
McCalman notes: “When we’re hungry and thirsty, the cheese-wine combination supplies just what our bodies crave: ideal sustenance, balanced nutrition, physical and psychic energy, and a satisfying fulfillment of our anticipation.” He follows these philosophical musings with practical tips on honing your matchmaking skills.
One of the most practical tools presented is his five-point rating scale for pairings, which he has used over the years to develop a personal catalog of successful matches. He uses a scale from -2 to +2, with the 0 representing a neutral rating. Using this type of scale, along with notes on the particular varietal, vintage, cheese and season will, before long, lead you to your favorite pairings and provide a measured critique of your expanding palate.
Whether you’re looking for a great addition to your cheese library or are just starting out in your study of fine cheese, this book is a must have. Don’t miss it!
Christine Hyatt is a Cheese Educator, food writer and videographer. Check out some short videos featuring Oregon Cheesemakers filmed during Max’s trip at www.cheese-chick.com.
21st Century Rock Star Plate
For a little slice of American cheese nirvana, seek out and savor Max’s picks for the 21st Century Rock Star plate.
Adelle | Ancient Heritage Dairy, Scio, OR
Constant Bliss | Jasper Hill Farm, Greensboro, VT
Elk Mountain Tomme | Pholia Farm, Rogue River, OR
Dorset | Consider Bardwell Farm, West Pawlett, VT
Tarentaise | Thistle Hill Farm, North Pomfret, VT
Rogue River Blue | Rogue Creamery, Central Point, OR
Meet the Master, Himself
If you’d like to meet Max McCalman in person, or if you just love great Oregon cheese, mark your calendars for the sixth annual Oregon Cheese Festival, March 20, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., at Rogue Creamery in Central Point. For more details, visit www.oregoncheeseguild.org.
Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager
Authors: Max McCalman and David Gibbons
List Price: $40 (hardcover; 384 pages)
Publisher: Clarkson Potter
Release Date: Nov. 17, 2009