The Whole Fromage by Kathe Lison

Since January 1st, I’ve listened to too many friends describe their plans to detox and start healthy new regimens. Paleo, grains, alcohol, smoothies, and dairy, all considered “unhealthy” and worth giving up for a week or a month to become healthy and better people apparently. As a follower of the Aristotelian motto of moderation in all things, I’m skeptical of these plans. What’s the point of living if you’re not actually enjoying said life? Plus cheese. C’mon. I can’t give up cheese! I only started liking blue cheese in the last decade and now have many many cheeses to try in whatever time I have left. This was made all the more apparent to me while reading Kathe Lison’s The Whole Fromage, her odyssey into the world of French cheese.

Can you tell me how many French cheeses there are today? No? Well, officials in France can’t either. There are more than you can imagine, from the well-known Camembert and Roquefort to little-know cheeses only sold locally in the small village of France. Lison’s journey isn’t a thorough tour—which doesn’t even seem possible–but it’s a fine examination of the changes in production methods the last century has brought to the world of cheese. Modernization isn’t terrible unto itself. Many artisanal cheesemakers have embraced labor-saving devices without sacrificing flavors, according to Lison, but they face pushback from consumers, who embrace the idea that the harder it is to make, the better it has to be. Of course, this hasn’t stopped some large conglomerates from using modern equipment and technology to churn out bland wheels of cheese.

I picked this book up expecting light travel/food writing with perhaps some sort of personal growth angle, but instead found Lison’s book both entertaining and educational. While reading it, I hungered for the cheeses she painstakingly described and found myself wondering if I could find the more obscure ones made on the farms she visited. Luckily for me, I live very close to one of the best cheese shops in the country, Formaggio Kitchen, a place I plan on visiting this weekend.

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