Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Whole Fromage by Kathe Lison

It has been entirely too long since I read a foodie non-fiction book.  I love niche non-fiction titles of any sort, but the food-related ones are always my favorite. I ran across this one on NetGalley and knew instantly that I had to have it. And, incidientally, it seems like my foodie books of choice usually end up being related to France in some way. Not surprising given its culinary klout -- plus there's a lot of pastry and cheese up in the joint.

In The Whole Fromage, Lison explores a handful of varieties of French cheese, and she goes after the history of those cheeses with wild abandon. Off the top of my head, I believe we covered brie, camembert, Roquefort, and some others whose names have left me and which I won't try to spell without textual guidance.

The history of French cheesemaking is fraught with peril. I'm not kidding! Stop laughing! From the argument of raw milk cheese vs. cooked, goat vs. cow, artisanal vs. industrial...there's a lot to take into consideration. And the French don't play around when it comes to cheese.

Once concept, which was totally new to me, was AOC. I can barely explain it, so let's allow Wikipedia to do it. Shall we?
The appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC)  which translates as "controlled designation of origin", is the French certification granted to certain French geographical indications for winescheesesbutters, and other agricultural products, all under the auspices of the government bureau Institut national des appellations d'origine, now called Institut national de l'origine et de la qualité (INAO). It is based on the concept of terroir.
So, yeah, there's a lot of French in there, and I took Spanish in high school and college. Basically, the French government -- when prompted to do so -- will put strict rules on which cheeses can be sold with specific names based on what they're made of and the specific process used to make them. So if it's a Roquefort cheese, it has to follow stringent guidelines to be tagged and marketed as such. This has caused waves of rebuttal in France. Some think it's great! It maintains quality of product, while others know that it industrializes the process and can kill off artisanal cheese makers who can't afford to produce at the same level or with the same massive output. It's the McDonald's syndrome.

I have a deficit of knowledge about the French language and Frenche geography, so I was at a loss at times, but this book really shines in the way it reveals the process of making each individual type of cheese. From the milking to the curds and whey part of it, putting the cheese into molds, and aging it appropriately. The whole issue of bacteria is another fascinating part of the process. From aging the cheese, to where it's aged, and how that bacteria is added (it used to be natural to the environment, now it's often "farmed").
If you'd like to hear my really horrendous French pronunciation and some personal stories about cheese, check out the video "review" below.


Just, wow! This was a seriously entertaining book, and it's really rekindled my love of foodie non-fiction. Win! And for your viewing pleasure, I've included a short video below on the cheese making process on a much smaller scale. It's really interesting, though, because she does go into some discussion of the bacteria and process and whatnot.

You can find The Whole Fromage on Facebook (with lots of pics!) HERE

Note: this video is not associated with the book or publisher.

Pub. Date: June 25, 2013
Publisher: Crown
Format: E-book
ISBN-13: 9780307452061
Source: E-galley from NetGalley!

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