My current bed-side table reading is The Whole Fromage: Adventures in the Delectable World of French Cheese, by Kathe Lison. The Wisconsin native set off on a cheese odyssey across France to find out the secret of what makes the hundreds of varieties of French cheese so special. Lison writes extremely well, and you’ll find her encounters with farmers, shepherds, scientists, and affineurs (af-feen-uhr), the people who bring cheese to perfect ripeness, to be engaging. She focuses on three main cheeses – Camembert, Gruyère, and Roquefort – as emblematic of France, but also spends time on lesser known cheeses such as Beaufort, Mont d’Or, and the supremely stinky Maroilles.
Lison writes, “Almost all the fromages of France lead a twinned existence: they are cheeses, yet they are also dreams; the dream the French countryside would dream of itself if such dreams were possible, the proof that what gives France her glory and strength is alive and well.” French artisanal cheese makers are caught between the need to preserve traditional ways and the need to maximize production and efficiency in order to stay in business. Lison tells the story of a cheese-maker who staged a faux hand-milking of his herd, while keeping electronic milking machines in the wings. Intrigue in the cheese world. Udderly scandalous. (Sorry.) This book would make a perfect gift for any foodie or Francophile.