Books on Cheeses of the World

June 29, 2012

I am getting ready to go on a little trip to Belgium and Normandy, so I checked out some books on cheeses in the world. I should say that, from glancing at these books, Belgium isn’t really known for its cheese. I think it is kind of squashed between France and the Netherlands, which are two very distinct regions for cheese. Belgium, therefor, does those cheeses rather than have their own. Or at least that it how the books make it look, as none of them really want to talk about Belgium cheeses.

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The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cheeses of the World was written by Steve Ehlers and Jeanette Hurt in 2008. Like all Complete Idiot’s Guide books, it is printed mostly in black and white with very few pictures. There are 16 color print inserts in the middle of the book. Compared to other books, which usually have a picture for every cheese discussed, this one doesn’t even cover a fraction.

The book starts out by describing cheese, giving some cheese history, explaining the difference in milk or major cheese making processes, and then gets into regions of cheese. This includes: French, Italian, Swiss, British Isles, Spanish and Portuguese, Scandinavian, the rest of Europe, Greek, Balkan, and Middle Eastern cheeses. A third of the book is dedicated to cheese in America, and another third is dedicated to shopping for and consuming cheeses.

Now, depending on your mindset, this can be a good book, as it simplifies the cheeses of countries into your more generic groupings, so one isn’t overwhelmed. However, as a “guide book” to regional cheeses, it would be sorely lacking. Also, without pictures, it is disappointing. Really, this is a good intro book, living up to its name, but would quickly become annoying if you aren’t a complete idiot.

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The World Cheese Book boasts to have over 750 cheeses with tasting notes and a guide on how to enjoy them. It was edited by Juliet Harbutt and published in 2009. This book was published with color photographs everywhere. It goes through a section on understanding cheeses before talking about France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, Great Britain and Ireland, the Low Countries, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and the Near East, the Americas, Japan, and Australia and New Zealand. The way the sections work is that they have kind of a generic map of regions within a country and a list of cheeses one might find in that region. However, the following pages are then all the cheeses in the country by alphabetical order. Each pages has three cheeses listed on it, which a close up picture of the cheese, a picture of the cheese wedge, and then a description, tasting notes, and how to enjoy of each cheese.

I say that this book is nice and focused, has information, and lots of pictures. For my travels, however, it is a little clunky, as all the cheeses are alphabetized by country, and larger countries are difficult to wade through if you are only interested in a region. However, it does spend more time in other locations, such as Japan and South America, so it is more informative in that regard.

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The library had a book called French Cheeses by Kazuko Masui and Tomoko Yamada, published in 1996 actually by DK Publishing, the same company that published The Finest Selection World Cheese Book. The book, just focusing on France, claims to go through 350 cheeses. The book only spends 20 pages in the introduction, eating of cheese, cheeses today, and a map. The map is not exactly helpful, as it shows you regions and sub regions that are numbered. All the cheeses in the book are alphabetized, but by the page number, there might be one or two other numbers corresponding to this sub region. Each page has one or two cheeses per page with two color pictures, a history and description, essential facts, another map, and sometimes a suggested wine. To my uneducated American eye, it looks like the French love cheese with rinds, and this book is very overwhelming to me. However, I think if I was to do a tour of the entire country of France, this would be an excellent book.

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I decided that the best book for my trip was one I had actually reviewed before called Cheese PrimerThe main reason, actually, was that the book was written by country and then by region. So because I’m going to Normandy, I was able to just look at the section on Normandy cheeses, to which the book lists five major styles. Other books do list more for Normandy, but with the information so scattered, I think this is easier to read even if it is less styles. Each style is talked about and you are told how to choose and serve the cheese. Admittedly, there aren’t really pictures of the cheese, so that is a flaw with the book. But for my travels, this ended up being the preferred book.

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