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The Whole Fromage

“A slice of cheese is never just a thing to eat, it is also a slice of history.” With these wise words in mind, writer Kathe Lison sets off on a gourmand journey across France, tasting her way through the history of French cheese.

The granddaughter of a dairy farmer, Lison proclaims herself a true “cheesehead”: she hails from Green Bay, Wis., where otherwise sane folks alltoooften wear foam wedges on their domes shaped like vibrant-orange wedges of cheese. She became enamored with French cheese during an early visit to Paris, a fascination that has grown and aged the more she’s tasted and learned.

France is home to hundreds of cheese types. At last count, there were 246 French cheeses, or 350, or 650. Or maybe even more. All produced in a country smaller than Texas.

From the Pyrenees to Normandy, Brittany to Provence, Lison samples sublimely buttery époisses best eaten with a spoon. Tender chèvres that taste like pure springtime. Lovely, gooey Mont d’Or, wrapped in spruce boughs. And she bravely tries others that sport scary, vibrant verdant molds or some that simply and blatantly “smell like armpits.”

Lison visits a centuries-old cheesemaking alpine monastery and affineur — cheese-aging — caves, helps shepherds milk their sheep, and talks with proud cheesemakers determined to keep ancient arts alive in this modern age of processed food and “cheese” that can be sprayed out of a can.

Along the way, she asks everyone she meets questions about the history contained in each slice of cheese, but also questions about the culture of food, how to maintain it, and why we should even bother.

Ripe with humor, passion, and fine storytelling, this is at once a culinary adventure for cheese fanatics, francophiles, and real-food lovers.

Image is from the cover of the book.

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