And with that simple sentence, Gordon Edgar won me over in his new book, “Cheesemonger, A Life on the Wedge” (Chelsea Green Publishing, January 2010, $17.95). As the cheese buyer for Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in San Francisco, Gordon was a cheesemonger before cheesemongering was cool. He’s the Barbara Mandrell of the cheese counter.
Fifteen years ago, this former punk rocker bluffed his way into being hired at Rainbow by proclaiming his favorite cheese was “anything raw and rennetless.” Today, he’s considered to be one of the hippest, most knowledgeable cheese buyers in the country.
I bought and sped read his book last week as a writing assignment for a magazine and have to admit I was not looking forward to it, as I’ve really started dreading reading cheese books. Most of the cheese guides hitting the book stores these days are full of pretentious verbiage written by people who assume that by reputation alone, they are THE authority on cheese.
Not Gordon. While several parts of his book caught me off guard – as in spew coffee through my nose surprised – the preface alone was enduring. Here’s how Gordon starts:
“There are plenty of great cheese guidebooks out there. This is not one of them.” Alrighty then. Well, Cheese Underground readers, I guarantee that by the end of Gordon’s book, you’ll disagree. While “Cheesemonger” is billed as the story of one guy’s memoir of his journey into the cheese business, it’s also an inspiring, introspective read for people like me who have always struggled with being cool enough to fit into the hip cheese crowd.
Not that I really fit into any hip crowd – evidenced by the episode this morning at the doctor’s office with my daughter. After speed reading Gordon’s book for the assignment last week, this week I’ve been carrying it with me everywhere, taking my time, re-reading it word for word and highlighting passages that especially speak to me. My daughter, who is almost always embarrassed by the fact that she has a mother who eats and writes about cheese for a living, was literally mortified when I pulled the book out of my bag and started talking it up to a complete stranger this morning who, like us, was waiting for his throat culture results (strep throat is making the rounds). Avery immediately ditched me and sprinted across the room, not wanting to be seen sitting with the resident cheese geek.
But now, thanks to Gordon, I fully and whole-heartedly am embracing my inner cheese geekness. I am proud to join Gordon as a fearless leader of non-snobs o’ cheese everywhere, keeping in mind that “in the end, the cheese always does the talking.”
Amazing cheese doesn’t need people like me describing it as a frou frou piece of art. It also doesn’t need pretentious authors talking up its “artisan” characteristics or its “terroir.” One of my favorite parts of Gordon’s book is actually the “Cheese Buying for Beginners” appendix, with helpful hints such as to spend your money on real Parmigiano Reggiano. He states: “Some Reggianos are better than others, but all are top quality. For the sake of Sweet Cheesus, don’t buy it pre-grated unless you doing a large event.”
Gordon reminds the reader that after all, cheese is just food. Eat it. Enjoy it. Don’t be afraid of it, and don’t let other people tell you what you like or dislike. And by all means, “buy the cheese that makes you happy.” Well said.