The end of the year should be a time of light, illuminating the good
things from the year before. This is quite a challenge if the main source of our information about life is the media: pretty distressing
these days. So in the spirit of “happy” holidays, I am using this final column of the year to share something wonderful with you. Something that would make the “bestest” present for someone you love.
Most books about cheese, though wonderful, are not written by people in the industry. There are a few exceptions, but most are for affluent food aficionados. Which is why Gordon Edgar’s new book, “Cheddar, A Journey to the Heart of America’s Most Iconic Cheese” (published by Chelsea Green and available at www.chelseagreen.com/cheddar) is so delicious.
The world of food, contrary to the blogosphere, is not split into two extremes. Depending on your point of view, either the evil industrial empire versus the urban chic who worship on the altar of food, or, the hard-working Joe’s trying to ensure affordable food on everyone’s table versus the elite.
There are many more in the middle. People who can only afford to buy the hippest foods on special occasions, but have some legitimate concerns about saving family farms and how we grow, process, and distribute food. Into this fray of pairing expensive cheese with wines I can’t afford and beers I find it hard to justify paying for, steps Gordon Edgar, a voice of reason.
Gordon’s not a food snoot, and I mean that in the best way. He is a cheesemonger who works in a mixed neighborhood in downtown San Francisco for the Rainbow Grocery Cooperative. Yes, it is a cooperative. He and his team serve elderly people on fixed incomes, young Turks, aging punks, the impossible to classify, and the legions of rising young Internet yuppies with their narcissistic demands who are driving out all the others in a wave of gentrification.
In hard times, people tend to find their luxuries at home. We can get lost in the delicious mold bespotted clothbound wheels and forget their journeymen hard-working cousins.
San Francisco has a tradition dating back to Jack London, and Emperor Norton: the workingman philosopher. The most notable, until Mr. Edgar came along, was Eric Hoffer, who wrote the book “The True Believer,” a book that merits a good read or reread given what has been happening in the news involving fanatics.
Though Gordon’s political perspective may differ, his prose and the depth of his ideas, grounded in the daily grind of serving the full spectrum of normal people, and doing so with pride, are refreshing, eye-opening, and a lovely journey of discovery about a cheese that is an American icon.
And the great thing is his affection for the most common kind of Cheddar, the glorious 40-pound block. In hard times, people tend to find their luxuries at home. We can get lost in the delicious mold bespotted clothbound wheels and forget their journeymen hard-working cousins. Not Gordon Edgar. And though he discusses and gives proper due to a “natural” wheel, much of his book takes us on a journey to the center of the Cheddar we slap on top of burgers, slip into sandwiches, and stir into macaroni and cheese.
It reads more like a travel book, or should I say a quirky travel book, along the lines of “Man Eaters Motel” and “Baghdad Without a Map”. The book begins with a foodie food fight in the San Francisco neighborhood of South of Market, or should I say mac & cheese competition, then a journey into the depths of the Wisconsin countryside.
Mr. Edgar leads us calmly and without pretense into a completely different understanding of the place of “ordinary” Cheddar in the American adventure. He makes us think profoundly about big issues related to how we grow our food, how we value our history, the importance of ordinary things, and in the process, shakes some popular illusions about Cheddar, its history, and the romance of family farming and artisan cheese production.
In my universe, it would be #1 in the New York Times Non-Fiction Bestsellers list. I’m honored to have read it, and proud to recommend it.
What a great holiday gift!
And on another note, I want to thank those who sent their comments to the FDA on raw milk and cheesemaking.
Recently, I read some of the official comments from large organizations like the IDFA, the Specialist Cheesemakers Association, and others.
I was extremely heartened to see that these large organizations are also wary of continuing to use inspection after the fact as a tool for improving the safety of the food supply, because it doesn’t. I am thrilled to see they have come to support better process and Continual Process Improvement as the only effective solution to minimizing risks.
But, I was disconcerted to see that they too quote the junk data on foodborne illness and dairy products originally provided by the Center for Disease Control. The value of data comes from a context that matches reality. When it doesn’t, it is wasteful and probably dangerous to use it.
But, progress has been made, and the dialogue is moving in the right direction. The time has come for the cheese industry to learn CPI, continual process improvement, Flow Manufacturing principles (Lean) and statistical product quality administration, and as ever, I am able and willing to help. It is the most effective way to ensure a minimum of risk and a maximum of quality and unleash the flow of productivity and profit.
Merry and Happy! DS
Dan Strongin is a former president of the American Cheese Society, chef and business coach for small to medium value added businesses, and the owner of the sites learn.managenaturally.com, and the Facebook group Enjoy Cheese. His online course: “Cheese: How to Buy, Store, Taste, Pair, Talk About and Serve”, is available at enjoycheese.net. Dan can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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