I am often asked what some good books are for people who love cheese and want to know as much as they can. The people asking are sometimes cheesemongers, sometimes customers, and sometimes random people amused by my obsession with cheese.
So I’ve compiled a shortlist of titles that are a good starting place for novices as well as experts wanting to stay sharp on their cheese game. These books make great gifts not just for yourself, but also for people who like cheese—so there’s yet another reason to file them away in your arsenal.
These books are pretty easy to find; I’ve discovered some at my local second-hand bookstore (especially Half Price Books in the University District of Seattle), online in great condition from second-hand bookstores, and of course new from giants like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and their ilk. And hey, there’s always the public library!
Everything About Cheese
There are two titles I think of when people just want to soak up cheese knowledge like soft sea sponges in a bathtub.
The first is Mastering Cheese by Max McCalman and David Gibbons (Clarkson Potter, New
York: 2009). McCalman is not only a major player in the American cheese game, he’s also a studied master cheesemonger, a maître fromager, and a wine expert.
While McCalman and Gibbons have a line of excellent cheese books (and even some wine-and-cheese pairing cards and a deck of cards about the “50 best” cheeses in the world), Mastering Cheese is always my starting point. The book is set up in lessons, starting with cheese history, cheesemaking, cheese science, how to assess and taste cheese, and a tour of some of the world’s finest cheeses by country.
The book is accessibly written, is a fast read, and has lots of nice pictures, infographics, and pull-outs. I highly recommend it to anyone just starting out with cheese.
The second book that comes to mind when I’m asked about broad cheese knowledge is Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang, New York: 2007). Werlin is a San Francisco-based author who has written a handful of books, is regularly published in magazines, and shows up on radio and TV frequently for her expertise.
Cheese Essentials starts with an introduction to cheese that uses cheesemaking to talk about cheese tasting—tying together texture, aroma, flavor, and so forth as a means of explaining how to eat cheese. The book then has sections devoted to eight different types of cheese, including cheeses that fall under each category, how to taste, cook, and eat them, and what to look for when buying them.
Werlin is a champion for artisanal cheeses and new-American cheesemaking, so she focuses on small cheese shops and local cheese counters as the best way to access and learn about cheese. The book is a fast and easy read—one that I recommend especially for cheese lovers who want to shop local and have a great relationship with their neighborhood cheesemonger.
There are countless books on the market telling you how to pair cheese and wine, cheese and beer, and cheese and other things on a cheese plate. While I’m still deciding what I think are the “absolute best” in this category, I’ve got a few books in my pocket that I’m poring over right now.
Just about any book about cheese will suggest wine pairings in the tasting notes for a particular cheese. McCalman and Gibbons do at the end of their world-tour chapters in Mastering Cheese, Steven Jenkins does it throughout Cheese Primer (Workman Publishing, New York: 1996), and Laura Werlin does it in Cheese Essentials.
But then there are the books that are focused exclusively on ways in which you can successfully pair wine and cheese. One such book is Janet Fletcher’s Cheese & Wine (Chronicle, San Francisco: 2007). Another is Werlin’s All American Cheese and Wine Book (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang, New York: 2003).
Books like these give you information about certain cheeses and types of cheeses, some recipes, and suggest wines to try alongside them (as well as information about the wines). They tell you how to taste, in what order, and what you should look for. In a sense, these types of books are always a starting point to give you the knowledge you need to go out and begin creating your own pairings.
The same goes for beer and cheese pairing books, like Fletcher’s Cheese & Beer (Andrews McMeel, Kansas City, MO: 2013). Beer and cheese pairings are less common in the broader realm of cheese books, and more cheesemongers know more about wine pairings than beer pairings—so there really is something special about a good guide to beer pairings.
There are of course countless books on how to make a great cheese plate or cheese board. At the moment, I’m into Tia Keenan’s The Art of the Cheese Plate (Rizzoli, New York: 2016) and McCalman and Gibbons’ The Cheese Plate (Clarkson Potter, New York: 2002).
The nitty-gritty sciency part of cheese is one into which I haven’t delved as much, but is nonetheless important. I’ve got The Science of Cheese by Michael H. Tunick (Oxford University Press, New York: 2014) sitting on my desk, and I’m pretty stoked to read it.
Tunick blends cheese history and culture with his scientific approach, which pairs biology and chemistry for a different take on cheesemaking than you typically find in the average cheese book. This is a must-read for anyone studying for the American Cheese Society’s Certified Cheese Professional examination, or for the science nerd in your life who also loves to eat cheese.
Another important, but oft-forgotten category of cheese books, is those that focus on the history and culture of cheese. My boss will assure you that Paul S. Kindstedt’s Cheese and Culture (Chelsea Green, White River Junction, VT: 2012) is an exceptional specimen within this category.
Kindstedt follows cheese through the history of mankind, following the rise of cheese alongside the development of western civilizations. If you love history, or if you love cheese and want to be able to better tell its stories, this book is a pretty good choice.
Books of Cheeses
Another category of books that customers especially like to ask about is those that list all of the different types of cheeses. Now listing every single type of cheese ever is an impossible feat, but there are a few books that come pretty close, in their own ways.
The Oxford Companion to Cheese (Oxford University Press, New York: 2016) is probably one of the most complete books on the subject. It’s an encyclopedia, but a readable one—especially if you’re thirsty for cheese info.
The World Cheese Book (DK, New York: 2009) is a grown-up version of those Eyewitness Books you may have read in school as a child. This book focuses on cheese—750 different kinds of cheese—with lots of photos, charts, lists, and infographics.
For those who speak or at least understand French, Robert J. Courtine’s Larousse des Fromages (Editions Larousse, Paris: 1999) is an encyclopedic list of all the cheeses of France. And, uh, in case you weren’t aware, there are a LOT of them.
What are you waiting for? Go get yourself some sweet, sweet books and get reading!