Où est le fromage?

I’m not quite sure why I find this so ridiculously hilarious. Possibly it’s the author’s gushing (oozing?) enthusiasm for cheese, something I find delicious but otherwise mundane. Possibly it’s the fact that his descriptions of cheese often teeter dangerously on the edge of, well, I don’t know what.  Possibly it’s the necessary inclusion of the word ‘cheese’ in every other sentence. At any rate, it is a book of Bible-thickness entitled Cheese Primer, written by Steven Jenkins,  “The first American to be awarded France’s prestigious Chevalier du Taste-Fromage,” and it recently found its way into my hands.  What is possibly most comedic of all, however, is the fact that I, in this interim stage of semi-unemployment, have somehow managed to convince myself that it is worthwhile to siphon out the best quotes from the aforementioned cheese book and blog about them. Ahem, we shall begin with Le France:

“France, for me, is a glorious wonder. But what astounds me most–French history, custom, and style aside–are the cheeses. I have worked with French cheeses virtually every day for the last 20 years. I coddle and caress them, occasionally inadvertently abuse them, but mostly, I am in awe of them.”

Dude, Puuh–leease. Is it just me or does his relationship with French cheese seem mildly inappropriate?  And then there’s Italy:

“But when it comes to cheeses, no one is ore adulatory and protective than the Italians, who are, I must add, equally dismissive about all cheese that is not Italian.”

Personally, I just love how close the word ‘adulatory’ is to ‘adultery.’

Switzerland is priceless:

“Switzerland’s cheeses are big, hard-rinded, rugged ones that are much less fragile. Their physical configuration matches the topography of the mountainous area where they originate. The most famous–Emmental and Gruyére–are dense textured and massive in size, so they must be hewn into smaller segements with double-handled knives. These sturdy cheeses evolved to meet the need dictated by the weater (long, cold winters*) and terrain (remote pastures high in the Alps).”

Of course, I had to read the section on Gruyere. This cheese was after all, much to my waistline’s dismay, probably my primary source of protein last summer.

“Gruyere (grew-YAIR or gree-AIR) hails from the canton of Fribourg, an area north and east of Lake Geneva…the longer I am in the business the more I realize the importance of Gruyére and the more forcefully I am stuck by it’s supremacy, it’s majesty.”

Vive le Gruyére! Forcefully majestic, indeed.

And then there’s sodden Merry ol’ Britain….

The British Isles are a dairy wonderland of common climate, temperature, elevation, and pasturages.”

While French and Italian cheeses take up well near half the book, Scandinavian & Germanic Cheeses are wedged together in a shorter section about less fine products. On Scandi varieties:

“As a group, these cheeses are simple and economical…like most factory-produced cheeses, their quality is constant, varying little from batch to batch–the result of modern facilities and scientific technology, much of which is actually imported from the US.”

This is hilarious because it quite nearly encompasses the general stereotype about everything Scandinavian.** Unfortunate, really.

Germanic stoicism at its cheesiest:

“German cheeses, while standing tall in aroma and flavor intensity, fall short when it comes to depth and nuance….Strong German and Austrian cheeses are often only that–strong

And the reviews get only worse from there, on Greece and the Balkans:

“[The Balkan countries] offer little of the cheese variety and romance of Western Europe….Were it not for Feta, this area wouldn’t figure on the cheese front at all, except in the not inconsiderable ethnic markets.”

You may have thought that was harsh, but truly, it’s our*** friendly neighbor to the north that gets no love from Jenkins. Canada warrants a mere two pages in his thick cheese-bible, and the section opens with the fatalistic proclamation:

‘Though one would expect that a country as big as Canada would be home to a great many cheesemaking facilities and a prodigious quantity of cheese, it is not. Curiously, Canadians are not big consumers of cheese. I find that baffling.”

I find this entire book baffling.


*Long winters, which I am currently (fortunately?) missing. 21 C in February, Heck Yes California.

**Ok, so Skandinavia: I did read the Sweden section, which was very short and consisted of two cheeses I had never heard of. I therefore will submit to Mr. Jenkins my suggestion for the addition of Prästost to the list.


Prästost, like nearly every other cheese in Sweden, is a white cheese with small holes in it. It is tolerable on crisp bread or skorpor, especially if you lather on the butter first and/or top with fish eggs in paste form, herring, or jam. The name Prästost, means “Priest Cheese” and comes from a time long ago when the people of a small village had no money to pay the tithe to the Priest, and instead paid in cheese. It is this story, and the lack of anything better, which makes Prästost the best common cheese in Sweden. If you are in the US, and if you are lucky, it might be available in an IKEA near you. 

***His section on American cheeses is pretty interesting and comprehensive, though notably less hilarious than his representations of European countries.  The gist is: most American cheeses are milder, mass-produced copies of their European originals. Regrettably (or…mercifully), he makes no mention of Cheezwhiz.

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