I’m currently about 50 pages into Heather Paxson’s fascinating new book, “The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America”, but can already strongly recommend it. Paxson, an anthropologist, takes an anthropologist’s approach to studying the world of cheese; living with the cheesemakers and farmers, observing their daily routines, bringing back in-depth and thoughtful reports from the field that delve into the economics, cultures, philosophies and technical practicalities of the cheesemaking process.
Although I can’t yet offer a detailed review, I can say, from what I’ve read, that anyone considering a jump into the world of cheesemaking should read this book; Paxson does a good job of revealing the economic and practical challenges (and they can be quite daunting) that any micro-creamery would face, and seeks to dispel some of the romanticism surrounding the idea of the pastoral rural life, that might attract, say, a city-dwelling office worker to give up economic security and stability in exchange for a life of cheesemaking (cough).
At the same time, she also explores how that mythology is so important to the relationship that the makers have with their customers; cheese is often sold with a story surrounding it, the creation myth of who the farmer is, what the farm and its animals lives are like, how the essence of the location of production find their way into the cheese. What might get lost, as we wax rhapsodic about the humble New England sheep or goat farm and their magical wheels of cheese are the economic realities of their life: some might have no health insurance, seven-day work weeks, razor-thin profit margins, while others make it work due to a second job, a family trust fund to draw on, or money earned in a previous life in corporate America.
The Scientific American blog, Oscillator has a review of the book that also delves into the worlds of terroir, microbial ecosystems, and the biologically symbiotic relationship between cheesemaker and cheese (read the full review here):