Beginning with the Antique Gruyere that awoke his sleeping palate to the wonders and possibilities of cheese, professional cheesemonger Edgar recounts the path that landed him behind the cheese counter of a San Francisco co-op. Armed with a healthy disdain for pretentiousness and a liberal attitude rooted in punk rock and activism, Edgar provides engaging, illuminating essays on the intricacies of cheese and its production-from milk to the use of hormones to methods of farming-as well as profiles of well-known varieties; he even makes room for oft-maligned American Cheese (Edgar himself was raised on Velveeta and Kraft Singles), as well as entertaining digressions on crazy customers. Unfortunately, Edgar's asides can irritate as often as they inform, repeating his thoughts on issues like the logistics of food cooperatives and challenges facing the nation's milk producers. Edgar's passion for the subject, including its politics and social implications, is unassailable, and should give readers a new perspective on their favorite wedge of fromage. The book works best as a bulletin from the front lines, rather than a guide to distinguishing Cashel from Maytag Blue; it should prove most interesting to locavores, fellow cheesemongers, and those interested in the U.S. food industry.
Ian Chipman, for Booklist-
Gordon (Zola) Edgar recounts his life in cheese, which began when he took a job at the cheese counter of the famed Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in San Francisco, knowing little beyond the Monterey Jack he grew up eating. His punk-rock aesthetic and political activism meshed beautifully with the worker-run natural foods store, but it wasn't until a revelatory encounter with an Antique Gruyere that a true passion was kindled. He claims that this is a memoir, not a guidebook, but you couldn't really ask for a more personable guide and introduction to the world of cheese, especially for those turned off by the lah-de-dahing often associated with it. He has a tendency to talk in circles, wandering from topic to topic and back around again, but it's almost always enlightening and entertaining. He'll get into aging cheese, then mirror it with his own maturation, or slice into the political aspects of making cheese (of which there are many), then segue into his own unique role in the community, or counterbalance techie talk of rennet and growth hormones with personal anecdotes of persnickety customers and earthy cheese makers. What really sets him apart, though, is his absolute disdain for pretension. He recognizes that a cheese obsession is inevitably foodie-ish, but that doesn't mean it has to be tied up in snobbery and fetishization of trendy buzzwords (his picking apart of artisinal and terroir are especially delicious). Each chapter ends with a couple of cheese recommendations for us poor souls not lucky enough to have a Gordon Zola in our own neighborhoods.
"A consummate cheese retailer, Gordon Edgar knows his cheese and aims to please. Unique in the offering of cheese books, this one is more than an encyclopedia. Gordon weaves an intricate web of his world at Rainbow Grocery: a democracy of passionate food mavens, a look at social justice, and the foibles of the human condition. It's all there. Gordon's expressive and entertaining prose exudes his smiling wit. His tales are both light hearted and poignant. He dares to ask all of the tough questions. Far from the cheese vats of Vermont, I want to hang out at Rainbow Grocery, get the cheese vibe and watch the world go by. Blessed is the cheese monger."Allison Hooper, cofounder, Vermont Butter & Cheese
"Gordon Edgar offers a singular glimpse into the exceedingly diverse, complex and sometimes incomprehensible post-60s world of cheese. Embedded within this humorous and provocative life story of a punk rocker-anarchist-turned-cheesemonger is a thought-provoking exploration of some of the great issues that loom large in the world of higher-end cheeses and, indeed, the American food system."Paul Kindstedt, author of American Farmstead Cheese
"Gordon Edgar, punkster turned cheesemonger, has a knack for telling stories and crams his passion, wry humor, and knowledge into every page. It's such a treat to read that as I neared the end, I started to ration the pages to make it last longer."Didi Emmons, author of Vegetarian Planet
"Weaving together seemingly disparate worlds, Gordon Edgar takes you on as a passenger in his wickedly funny and insightful memoir. By the time I finished reading, I had learned new things about cheese, for sure, but was more struck by his unique and humorous take on cooperatives, community and how Americans relate to their food. Cheese may be the focus, but human dynamics, in all our shared quirks, passions and constructed factions, is really the subject."Becky Selengut, chef and author
"Cheesemonger is a deliciously fun read, cover to cover. Gordon gives a knowledgeable and thoroughly unabashed view from the front lines of a surging field."Max McCalman, author of The Cheese Plate, Cheese: A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Best, and Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maitre Fromager, and Dean of Curriculum at www.artisanalcheese.com
"All I can say is this, if Randall Grahm, of Bonny Doon, would have discovered cheese before wine, he would have written this book. Cheesemonger is witty, insightful, and utterly packed with passion and fine humor. This book now goes on the 'required reading' list for my entire staff!"Charlie Trotter, Restaurant Charlie Trotter's
"Not surprisingly, never before have the themes of punk rock and cheese appeared between the covers of the same book. But cheesemonger, author, and former punk rock aficionado Gordon Edgar's world is different. His unique perspective as a cheesemonger in a San Francisco co-op, his uncontainable passion for cheese, and his ability to weave a tale like no other make Cheesemonger one of the most readable, entertaining, and educational books on cheeseand lifeever written."Laura Werlin, author of Laura Werlin's Cheese Essentials
"Smart, compassionate, and fun to read, Cheesemonger took me by surprise! Who would expect the memoir of a cheese man to be so fascinating, playful, and refreshing? It's great to hear a voice on food from the punk route, and Gordon Edgar brings a fresh and important perspective that we could all use for handmade foods, those that aren't, and the people who buy them."Deborah Madison, author of Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets and What We Eat When We Eat Alone
"If you think culture applies only to transforming milk into cheese, then read this book! Gordon Edgar takes you on an irreverent journey through history, punk music, lust, food politics, and daily challenges faced by small-scale farmers and co-op retailers. He simultaneously demystifies cheese, while wrestling with the myths and contradictions of the global food system. He will make you laugh, cry, and debate him!"Jeffrey Roberts, author of The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese