American CheeseAmerican Cheese: An Indulgent Odyssey Through the Artisan Cheese World by Joe Berkowitz
Published by Harper Perennial on October 6, 2020
Genres: Food, Nonfiction
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.

4 Replies to “American Cheese”

  1. You raise so many interesting points here. It’s still unreal to me that we can read something from 2019, comparatively still so close and recent, and yet realize how outdated it may already be considering.

    Disappointing that he didn’t more closely examine the ethical issues though. In the review I posted about the book arguing for veganism, it was jarring to get so much detail about the unsustainability within dairy. I knew something about it of course, but it was still a bit shocking and not something I think should be brushed over as easily as it sounds like this author does.

    Anyway, this still sounds fascinating and I’m adding it to my list – thanks for the introduction, I don’t think I’d have heard of it if not for you!

    1. Dairy is a rough industry. I worked a job that covered some dairy farms during my first year out of vet school. I don’t think people have any idea.

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