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Let the buyer beware
on 14 August 2010
If you're looking for a big book about cheese, which will tell you the difference between types and modes of manufacture (hard or semi-hard, 'Cheddar' or 'Cheshire', Gruyere or Emmenthal for example), and will give you some indication of which cheeses have relatively mild or relatively strong flavours, then this is NOT the book for you.
The key lies in the subtitle, which the Amazon page entirely omits unless you look at an enlarged illustration of the book cover - it's not in the publication details, nor in the publisher's information - 'The world's best artisan cheeses: a journey through taste, tradition and terroir'.
To be fair to the author, she's been ill-served by her publisher: a better editor would have thought about who was most likely to want to read a book about artisanal cheeses, and have insisted, at the very least, on including a glossary of technical terms and manufacturing processes (what exactly is 'milling', for example?) as well as asking for hints to be fulfilled. It's deeply frustrating to read that Comté used to be an Emmenthal-like cheese with holes, and that it was changed some years ago to 'a Gruyere style' without being able to find any more information about exactly what that means. The same problem occurs in mysterious and unexplained references to 'Cheshire' and 'Cheddar' as manufacturing techniques: there are hints about important differences, but no explanation of what they are.
There can't be many places in the UK where it's possible to taste many of the cheeses listed here, not even the commercial relatives of the artisanal cheeses described. So the comprehensive list of cheeses its author likes (and because she seems to like them all, there's no hint that we might like some less than others - no warning about what Reblochon does to a fridge's contents if left too long, for example, let alone any guidance to the wilder tastes of old Danish or Norwegian cheese) is about as useful as someone else's letter to Santa.
The book's very pretty, and there may be some people out there for whom it is very helpful - including Ms Michelson's customers. But for a wider audience, the gaps and omissions make this frustrating and disappointing, an opportunity missed.