American Cheese

American Cheese: An Indulgent Odyssey Through the Artisan Cheese World

by Joe Berkowitz
Genres: Food, Nonfiction
Published on October 6, 2020
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback Source: Owned

A deep-dive into a cultural and culinary phenomenon: cheese.
Joe Berkowitz loves cheese. Or at least he thought he did. After stumbling upon an artisinal tasting at an upscale cheese shop one Valentine’s Day, he realized he’d hardly even scratched the surface. These cheeses were like nothing he had ever tasted—a visceral drug-punch that reverberated deliciousness—and they were from America. He felt like he was being let in a great cosmic secret, and instantly he was in love.
This discovery inspired Joe to embark on the cheese adventure of a lifetime, spending a year exploring the subculture around cheese, from its trenches to its command centers. He dove headfirst into the world of artisan cheese; of premiere makers and mongers, cave-dwelling affineurs, dairy scientists, and restauranteurs. The journey would take him around the world, from the underground cheese caves in Paris to the mountains of Gruyere, leaving no curd unturned, all the while cultivating an appreciation for cheese and its place in society.
Joe’s journey from amateur to aficionado eventually comes to mirror the rise of American cheese on the world stage. As he embeds with Team USA at an international mongering competition and makes cheese in the experimental vats at the Dairy Research Center in Wisconsin, one of the makers he meets along the way gears up to make America’s biggest splash ever at the World Cheese Awards. Through this odyssey of cheese, an unexpected culture of passionate cheesemakers is revealed, along with the impact of one delicious dairy product.

This book takes a close look at the American cheese landscape.  The author moves from being an interested civilian to examining the training and life of cheese makers and sellers in the United States.  He even starts attending major cheese festivals and competitions. 

American artisanal cheeses have just started to get some respect around the world.  An exceptional American blue cheese led the way.  Now Americans are doing better and better at international competitions – both for the quality of the cheeses and the expertise of the sellers.

As a person who likes cheese but feels bad about it (both from an ethical standpoint and a lactose-intolerant one), I was a bit surprised at the lengths some people go to in their love of cheese.  It seems similar to wine lovers who travel around looking for the best and most exotic wines.

The book did briefly cover the animal welfare issues involved with making cheese but the author was evidently able to sweep any ethical concerns away easily as he continued his cheese adventures

Most of the events in this book took place in 2019 so the world that it describes is likely radically changed.  The descriptions of large gatherings of people all tasting from large displays of cheeses seems naively quaint now.  

If you love cheese and want some ideas of the best of the best that America is producing, check out this book.