Pros: Delicious details; imparts more of a general understanding of cheese and cheese-making than I would have expected
Cons: Could have used another round of editing
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Ellen Ecker Ogden’s The Vermont Cheese Book is, quite simply, a tribute to and celebration of the farmstead and artisanal cheeses produced throughout the state of Vermont. If you want to explore those cheeses it can guide you through them either by product (in case you want to purchase them elsewhere) or by farm (in case you want to visit some of these delicious places). But best of all it gives life to what could have been a dry guidebook, detailing the people, history and practices behind each farmstead.
The book opens with a description of the general process of cheesemaking and the types of cheese that can be produced, then is organized by geographic area, usually covering several counties at once. Each chapter comes with a map showing where each farm can be found, generally speaking.
Each farm has its own section within the chapter. This section gives the address, phone number, and, if relevant, web site address of the farm, then goes on to list and describe the various cheeses produced there. This introduction gives a brief idea of what makes this farm different, unusual, or interesting, and what makes its cheese stand out from others like it. It also details whether and how you may visit the farm, whether it’s possible to observe the cheese-making process, and where you might buy their cheeses.
After this introductory section, a longer and more personal “about the farm” section details the unique people, history, circumstances, learning process, and ideals behind the cheese you might someday find yourself eating. This is the part that brings the book to life, turning what could have been a rather dry guidebook into a lively exploration of a fascinating range of people all sharing a singular passion for cheese. Photographs of the farmsteads, cheeses, and a wide variety of cheesemaking processes add to the experience, allowing you a brief glimpse into the daily life of a cheesemaker. You can practically feel the chores of the daily life on these farms and taste the rewarding fruits of their labors as you read each loving description of the texture and taste of a cheese.
The only negative I had regarding the book was an editing issue—it seemed as though quite a few little connecting words were simply missing from the text, and a few sentences just didn’t make any sense at all, as though perhaps two sentences had accidentally been edited together in the middle of each. It seemed small at first, but it did occasionally confuse things.
However, in another way the whole of the book went above and beyond its mission. It’s certainly intended as a guide to Vermont’s cheeses, not some sort of basic primer on cheesemaking in general, and it doesn’t pretend to act as the latter. Yet in lovingly detailing how each cheesemaker achieves his or her desired results, the book does indeed impart a surprising amount of information regarding cheeses in general. I went to the store this weekend armed with and determined to make use of a new body of knowledge, and have been reaping the delicious benefits ever since—I may not have been able to access these Vermont cheeses here in Maryland, but I still learned enough to be able to choose other cheeses that have blown me away with their quality. It’s enough to make me wish I still lived in Vermont or New Hampshire and could find some of these cheeses in my local store, and I expect I may have to look into ordering one or two from the farms’ websites!
Also, visit author Ellen Ogden’s website!