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From the author of Away with Words, a deeply hilarious and unexpectedly insightful deep-dive into a cultural and culinary phenomenon: cheese.
“Who knew it was possible to enjoy reading about cheese as much as eating it? Remarkably entertaining, deeply insightful, and downright hilarious, American Cheese goes far beyond the plastic yellow slices we all know, and some love, revealing a community as quirky, passionate, and creative as the cheese they put into the world.”
— Jim Gaffigan, comedian/actor and New York Times bestselling author of Food: A Love Story
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 extraordinary impact of one delicious dairy product.
Berkowitz's relationship with dairy proves to be obsessive in this expos that reveals the hidden, overlooked, or simply ignored world of artisanal cheeses, the mongers who love them, and the gatherings that celebrate their abundance. Berkowitz (You Blew It) provides a brief history of cheese carts, reveals that New York City's famous Murray's Cheese shop has a secret volunteer program to help with their cheese classes, and chronicles the 2018 Cheesemonger Invitational held in Brooklyn. In Austin, Tex., he visits the Cheeselandia exhibit at the 2019 SXSW festival with its "fondue pots simmering like unoccupied Jacuzzis." He travels California's Cheese Trail of some 83 creameries and farms, and sits down at Wisconsin's Center for Dairy Research for a hard look at curds. In Philadelphia, he attends the Cheese Ball, that city's "largest cheese party," an affair hosted by an influencer who calls herself Madame Fromage. Indeed, cheese has always provided a healthy environment for low comedy, and Berkowitz cannot resist flavoring his authoritative knowledge with playful turns of phrase. More endearing is the "nasal distress" caused by his less-than-expert nose for aromas, and the "existential cheese crisis" he experiences after realizing his vegetarianism might be good news for milk cows, but baby male cows pay the price by being raised for beef or veal. Ripe with fresh perspectives, this well-molded collection is a delight.