There are people who like cheese. And there are people who really like cheese. Kathe Lison falls into the latter classification of dairy enthusiasts and applies that fondness to all things fromage de France in her book, The Whole Fromage.
Lison’s life was smothered in cheese from a very early age; she grew up in Wisconsin, and if you’ve ever watched a Green Bay Packers game, you know – Wisconsinites are quite proud of their dairy exports. And as a child, she of course loved (and still owns up to loving) the mass-manufactured joys of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Luckily for the reader, however, Lison graduates from these all-American beginnings and heads overseas to get to the heart of the tradition of French cheese, unearthing answers to the big questions, as well as uncovering curds of smaller cheese trivia along the way. From the purpose of sprinkling ash on the rinds (to keep the flies away) to what it technically means to be an AOC-approved cheese (the requirements are many, specific, and stringent), Lison covers much of France’s cultivation and tradition of Camembert, Beaufort, and more.
Lison’s prose is filled with charming anecdotes – the time she tried to make cheese at home using sour cream and her stockings, her previous food travels, and what it was like to join an exclusive dinner in France with a group of enthusiasts more passionate about cheese than her. Sure, Lison touches on the technicalities – the milking machines, the parts of a cow’s stomach, the steps of forming cheese molds – but her voice flows. Before you know it, what started out as a nonfiction culinary travel memoir serves as an informal and personal lesson on the glory and types of various French cheeses. For this reader, I finally understand why it is that I prefer sheep’s milk cheese so strongly over goat or cow.
Ultimately, The Whole Fromage is not just for cheese fans – it’s also for fans of history, France, traveling, and the art of immersive reportage. I suspect you’ll come away from Lison’s book with more than just a greater understanding of one of France’s many important agricultural traditions; I suspect you’ll come away with a craving, and one that doesn’t disperse until you find your local cheese shop and stop in for a taste.