Steven Jenkins Cheese Primer is easily the best book I have ever read on cheese. Does this mean I have read a lot of books on cheese? Well, not a lot, but enough to know that the Cheese Primer is the book to read if you have any serious notions about cheese.
Steven Jenkins was on CBS Sunday Morning a while back in a story called Meet The Cheese Man. Hmm, 2002 according to the website. Must have been a rerun that I saw. It was still fun to see someone so passionate about something that, at least in most of America, is a pretty boring food. That’s why reading the Cheese Primer in 1996 was such a shock to my sense of reality. Here was a book that told me that Blue Cheese was not just a salad dressing. There is a whole family of blue cheeses, including the legendary English Stilton and Wensleydale-a cheese that is a personal favorite of Wallace of Wallace and Gromit fame.
The Cheese Primer is the kind of book you need to carry with you when you venture into Whole Foods or Central Market or whatever the fancy food store in your area happens to be. Here is a guide to all the cheese that Steven Jenkins thinks are fit to eat. If it isn’t in this book, the odds are good that you don’t want to eat it. Oh I know, it is an old book and maybe there are some great new cheeses out there. Once you have a few great cheese under your belt, then you can start to try new things with a more educated palate.
I grew up eating Longhorn cheese, which often came in a package marked Rat Cheese, as it was the preferred cheese to put in rat traps. We would grate this cheese over chili or melt it on top of hamburgers. Several years later we discovered Pepper Jack cheese, and this is still a personal favorite of mine. The only time we deviated from the bland super market cheeses was at Christmas. Then we would head down to the mall and Hickey Farms from some cheese balls, and maybe a brick or two of smoked cheese. This was still not exactly adventurous cheese eating. But it was a step up from Rat Cheese.
Then I found Steven Jenkins Cheese Primer and I started to sample blue cheese, real mozzarella, real Gouda, and while visiting England-real Stilton. If Kraft is your idea of great cheese, then these full flavored cheeses can be a bit overpowering. But I highly recommend that you broaden your cheese eating experience and dabble with a bit of Feta, real Cheddar, maybe a bit of Roquefort. But those names are just the tip of the cheese iceberg. There are hundreds of cheeses with all kinds of exotic names and flavors.
I like a nice Carr’s cracker and some sparkling grape juice with my cheese. The Cheese Primer gives all kinds of advice on what kind of wine to drink with each cheese as well, if you are so inclined. This is a book to dip into and feel a strong wanderlust for all the great places where cheese can be found. For cheese is as much about where it is made, as how it is made. This is a really great book.