Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Blessed are the Cheesemakers by Sarah-Kate Lynch

"In my experience there's not a state in the world," Fee said matter-of-factly, "that cannot be greatly improved by close proximity to cheese."
July at The Kitchen Reader means a food-centred novel. Last year we read The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen. And this year we were lucky enough to read the highly enjoyable Blessed are the Cheesemakers by Sarah-Kate Lynch, selected by Victoria of Mommy Marginalia.

This entertaining novel is set (mostly) in rural Ireland, and characters are drawn there from Dublin, distant New York City, and a remote Pacific island. They converge on a dairy farm which makes artisan cheese. The milk maids are all young vegetarian women who sing while working - it improves the milk, according to Fee and Corrie, the two old friends in charge. Kit arrives; he is a young New York man whose life has fallen apart after his wife dies and he loses his finance job. Abbey arrives; she has spent a decade as an aid worker with her errant husband in the Pacific. The plot may not be complex (have you any idea of what may happen next?) but the path is hilarious and the cheese is sublime.

I am hugely in in favour of novels about cheese. (In fact, I sometimes wish more of life could centre on cheese. Don't you?) Cheese-based similies suit me just fine! For example, grandfather Corrie dreadfully missed his granddaughter and even having her back didn't help much: "his heart felt more like Emmental than ever."

Furthermore, the descriptions of cheese making enthralled me. While on holiday in Canada, I sought out some rennet, the coagulating agent for cheese. Corrie and Fee witnessed the almost mystical role of rennet every day:
Once the rennet was added, the magic of the cheese making began in earnest. Before their very eyes, the milk disappeared and the cheese began to emerge. In more than sixty years on the factory floor, there had not been one single day when their point in the cheese making had not given each man a tingle of excitement up his spine.
Cheese making is a wondrous process, but one that sadly I won't be experiencing soon. I accidentally left my rennet at my parents' house in Canada. (Sigh.) Next time I travel I will bring back some rennet and finally make myself some beautiful, mystical cheese. For now, I am glad that I experienced the joy vicariously in Blessed are the Cheesemakers.

By the way, many soft cheeses don't need rennet: I have made mascarpone and ricotta before and they require only milk (or cream) and lemon juice. All is not lost for me and my cheese making dreams.

Also, by the way, The Kitchen Reader is a really fun group of bloggers that reads food books each month and writes reviews. Why don't you join us?

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