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The Whole Fromage: Adventures in the Delectable World of French Cheese (Anglais) Broché – 25 juin 2013


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“The French are sawed-off sissies who eat snails and slugs and cheese that smells like people’s feet.”
—P.J. O’ROURKE
 
The blade of Napoleon’s sword scythed air redolent of roasted meat as the man who would one day be emperor severed the top of the cheese before him. Its point landed with a soft plop.

Moments earlier, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, renowned French diplomat and the owner of the Château de Valençay, had noted the scowl creeping across the general’s face. The stain of red on his cheeks had nothing to do with their recent scorching by an Egyptian sun, nor the warm breezes wafting through from doors flung open to a gravel courtyard. Inside the room, a hush fell over the guests gathered around the mahogany table, the silver-plate carving stand, the china banded in moss green and gilt. Outside, below the courtyard, the Nahon River, one of the numerous tributaries whose waters eventually join the Loire, flowed in a quiet, dark streak.

Not long before, France had triumphed at the Battle of the Pyramids, and the success of Napoleon’s North African campaign seemed assured. Back then, Talleyrand had relished the pyramid-shaped fromage produced on nearby farms. Why had he, Talleyrand, so skilled in the art of subtle manipulation, not considered how Napoleon might feel about the cheese now that the general had returned in defeat? The sound of the courtyard fountain, its spout ringed by cherubic stone children, trickled into the silence; a wine bottle, nestled in one of two marble ba- sins attached to the walls, shifted with a dull clunk. The guests, many of whom had jumped from their seats when the general called for his sword, stood without moving. Encumbered by the brace he wore for a chronic limp, Talleyrand remained near his chair, the froth of lace at his throat quivering. Napoleon spared none of them a glance as he set the sword next to the serving plate, nabbed a morsel of the now-decapitated cheese, and chewed.

This is one account—shamelessly embellished—of how the goat cheese known as Valençay came to be shaped like a flattened pyramid. Other stories have Talleyrand beheading the cheese; in still others, the peasants around Valençay do the deed. According to yet another variation, Talleyrand, wanting to enjoy the fine goat cheese from his country estate while in Paris, ordered his steward to alter the cheese molds before sending the tasty chèvres to the city, where the emperor might see them. But the most popular version is the one in which Napoleon himself lops the tip off—a story with a heady mix of celebrity, defiant Frenchness, a hint of danger, and of course, a dash of cheese.
  
My own story with French cheese began less dramatically, with a trip to Paris. Charles de Gaulle is supposed  to have said, “How can anyone govern a country that has 246 different kinds of cheese?” But de Gaulle’s number was only one estimate,  as the book I bought one Christmas Eve at Charles de Gaulle Airport made clear: a Dorling Kindersley “visual guide to more than 350 cheeses from every region of France.” Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the actual number of French cheeses is one of those great unknowables, like the place the other sock disappeared to or whether or not God exists. Even the ubiquitous de Gaulle quote doesn’t stay constant—sometimes he laments the existence of 258 cheeses, sometimes 227, sometimes 324. Other sources say it wasn’t even de Gaulle but rather Winston Churchill who wanted to know “How can you govern a country with over 300 cheeses?”—to which the French president supposedly snapped back, “There are at least 350.” This number at least squares with that of my guidebook, but falls far short of estimates that put the number of French cheeses as high as 650. Six hundred and fifty. Cheeses. All produced in a country smaller than Texas.

I’d bought the book to learn more about the cheeses that my partner, Chris, and I were smuggling out of the country in our suitcases. One of them, a pungent, gooey cow’s milk cheese from the French Juras called Vacherin Mont d’Or, qualified as con- traband: a raw-milk cheese—i.e., an unpasteurized one—aged fewer than sixty days. Completely illegal in the United States, though at the time it didn’t occur that something as innocuous- seeming as cheese could turn us into petty criminals. The cheese was cushioned in a suit newly bought for Chris; he was making elaborate plans for fumigation even before we left French soil. When I showed him the book, Chris took one look at the cover and said, “Three hundred and fifty cheeses! That’s practically a different cheese for every day of the year.”

“I know,” I responded, nearly whispering in awe, before plunking into a chair near our gate.

I opened the book—and encountered pictures so vivid I had to resist an urge to press my nose to the pages to see if I could smell them.  There  were cheeses with wild mulberry leaves pressed into their tops; cheeses bound with rushes; cheeses covered in ash, in cumin, in raisins, in bits of grape skin; cheeses furred with long hairs of mold; cheeses in the shape of bricks, logs, bells, sheep turds; gigantic round cheeses that could crush a poodle; and tiny goat cheeses so tender-looking you wanted to pick them up and soothe them. As I turned each glossy page, revealing another and yet another fabulous, even fantastical, cheese, I began to have questions. Why produce this crazy number of cheeses? I mean, why not just one nice sharp cheddar?

The French, I would eventually discover, have so many cheeses and so much lore to go with them that there’s even a Larousse des fromages—a French cheese encyclopedia. What was the deal with the French and all this fromage? I wanted to find out.
 
Given my upbringing, you might say my interest in cheese was inevitable. I confess: I am a Cheesehead. By this, I don’t just mean that I love cheese (though, I do) or that I have a cheese obsession (though, I suppose you could say that), but that I was born and raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the place where otherwise sane-seeming folk regularly don foam wedges shaped like giant slices of Gruyère (though colored a bizarre, alien yellow we can only hope real Gruyère never attains). On Packer Sundays, these wedges crown the heads of the faithful at Lambeau Field, one part of a football, beer, and cheese-bratwurst trifecta.

When it comes to cheese, people from Wisconsin just can’t help themselves. License plates proclaim the state “America’s Dairyland,” and picture a happy little red barn, happy little flapping birds, and a happy orange sunset. Some people believe that Colby, invented in Colby, Wisconsin, may have been the first truly American cheese. Wisconsin is the nation’s  largest producer of cheese, although California has long been on its tail, a fact that pisses off Wisconsinites to no end. A New York Times report outlining the looming takeover quoted various cheese people in my home state: “Say cheese and you say Wisconsin,” claimed one. “When you drive through Wisconsin, what do you see but cheese? It’s who we are,” said another. As one journalist put it, “Cheese is a kind of secular religion in the upper Midwest, particularly in Wisconsin.”

My maternal grandfather kept and milked a dozen Holsteins on a farm north of Green Bay, and on my father’s side, my great- great-grandfather started a dairy that remained in the family well into the 1960s; as a boy, my grandfather rode along in the milk wagon making deliveries. In my kitchen sits an old bottle, the words “Lison’s Dairy” scrolling across its front in brown letters. I heard about that mom-and-pop operation—the empty storefront was a few blocks from my grandparents’ Green Bay home—all the time as I was growing up: “You should have tasted their chocolate milk!” As far as I know, no one in the family made cheese themselves, but my progenitors were certainly up to their eyeballs in udders.

Still, the Wisconsin cheese I ate in the 1970s could hardly be considered “artisanal.” Even if such cheeses had been available, I was the trailer park kid of a single mother just scraping by, sometimes with the help of food stamps. The cheese we knew was a somewhat bland, orange variety that came from the local food pantry in brown cardboard boxes stamped “U.S.D.A.,” or the sort found in Kraft Macaroni & Cheese—which, to be technical, is not really cheese at all. Mom used to pull a chair up to the stove and let me stir the elbow noodles, then help add the milk, butter, and garish powder that made the mess a cheesy delight.

Many of my organic-only, low-fat, health nut friends are horrified when I own that even now, as an adult, I still eat Kraft Mac & Cheese. I have upgraded to the more refined “Three Cheese with Mini-Shell Pasta” version, but it comes in that same blue box, an old pal on the cupboard shelf.

In other words, my childhood cheese, like that of most Americans, was industrial cheese. All of it was a far cry from raw-milk cheeses made high in the French Alps in wee chalets where they’ve been making cheese for centuries, or from cheeses with marvelous crusty rinds the color of toast, or from still others that you can break into and eat with a spoon. Wisconsin might be really into cheese, but it doesn’t come close to rivaling France—a fact I largely ignored when I spent a semester in Paris during my early twenties. Back then, in my fresh-from-the-Midwest naïveté, I thought even chèvre s...

Revue de presse

"A mouth-watering read."—New York Post

"An inquisitive romp across France...Rich in storytelling, the book journeys between the historic past and the delicious present in one of the world's most diverse cheese realms. Pick up a copy of The Whole Fromage, and get lost in it."—Culture Magazine 

"From ancient villages to the heights of the Alps, Lison tracks down traditional cheese makers while sampling the fruits of their labors and offering descriptions as full of passion and flavor as the cheeses themselves."—Bask Magazine 

“Kathe Lison proves she is a passionée de fromage with her delightful foray into the French countryside.  From the Loire Valley to the Alpine slopes, Lison’s journey is très amusant… [and] captures a passion of all things fromage.”—Rob Kaufelt, owner of Murray’s Cheese
 
"Kathe Lison is to French Cheese as Peter Mayle is to life in Provence.  The Whole Fromage reads like a novel- insightful with right amount of humility and humor."—Allison Hooper, owner of Vermont Creamery

“Marvelous. Chockfull of humor, story-telling, passion and adventure, Kathe Lison’s cheese journey through France reads more like a novel than a true story. Plus, it conveys such a 'you are there' feeling that by the time you finish you’ve managed to take an entire trip without leaving your living room.”—Laura Werlin, author of Laura Werlin's Cheese Essentials
 
"In my dreams, I get to do what Kathe Lison has done and tour France in search of cheese epiphanies. In the interim, I have her engaging book, The Whole Fromage, to remind me of the personal stories embedded in each wheel of great cheese." —Janet Fletcher, author of Cheese & Beer and Cheese & Wine

"France is a cheese-driven country, and this book gets right to its pungent, creamy heart." —Stephen Clarke, author of 1000 Years of Annoying the French

"Reading The Whole Fromage is like enjoying an illicit raw-milk Brie. Kathe Lison follows her nose across France to explore the country's wild obsession with cheese…If Joan Didion had fallen tastebuds over heels for French cheese, then she might have written this book." —Tenaya Darlington, author of Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese
 
"A thorough, inspired look at France from a devoted and curious cheese lover and writer."—Kirstin Jackson, author of It's Not You, It's Brie

"Kathe Lison's book expresses her loving familiarity with the wonderful and complex world of French cheese. It takes you from the fields where the animals graze, through the creamery, shops and right to your table. Prepare to devoir this book! And prepare to be hungry!" —Lucia Watson, owner of Lucia's Restaurant and co-author of Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland

“Lison seamlessly conveys the experience of tasting the creamy, luscious [Camembert] and its many cousins. Part travelogue, part homage to fromage, Lison's book is informative and endearing and will appeal to foodies, Francophiles, and hungry readers.”—Publishers Weekly

“If anyone in America has a right to claim authority on the subject of cheese, author Lison does...A lot of books have been published about the history, culture, and virtues of France’s cheeses, but this one celebrates the farmers, dairymen, and cheese makers who have established France’s cheeses as still the world’s standard.”—Booklist

“Her curiosity piqued by the multitude of French cheeses, essayist and self-proclaimed cheesehead Lison chronicles her tasty culinary journey exploring the art and science of French cheese making...Whether Lison is ruminating on the short lactation cycle of sheep, the origins of rennet, or the grassy, lemony taste of a spring goat cheese, readers will have all their senses engaged.”—Kirkus


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Amazon.com: 57 commentaires
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Great 20 juin 2013
Par kelsie - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
Lison's tour of the great cheeses of France is a great and fun read. I'm not a connoisseur of cheese (though I do like a good slice of Edam on a burger), so this was an unusual read for me from the start. Kathe Lison, however, made the journey through several varieties of French cheese lively, interesting, and even funny. She has a zest for writing that ought to have even non-cheese specialists reaching for this book.

The book samples a whole range of cheese and also a whole range of experts and stories. In the fourth chapter, for example ("Cheese is a Battlefield"), Lison discusses the place of cheese in wartime. "To French soldiers stuck in the moldering trenches of World War I," she argues, "the simple act of eating Camembert with cheap red wine was a way to connect with the Divine; a makeshift communion ceremony in which the cheese stood in for the wafer." Immediately, the reader is transported to a more desperate, darker time--one not usually associated with gourmet food of any kind--that encourages looking at cheese from a different perspective.

The book is a marvelous, thought-provoking journey that also serves as a great introduction to a more rarefied world left behind closed doors to the millions of people in the US and beyond who eat cheese (of some kind) every day. The only thing that might improve the presentation would be a few illustrations.
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
French cheese, Mmmm...always hard to beat 18 juillet 2013
Par - Kasia S. - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
I really liked this book, it starts off with some very interesting history of cheese and cheese making. I tend to collect cheese books because I absolutely love cheese, but many times I have no clue what to pair it with considering the large selection one can find in most good stores these days. I guess simplicity is key but the book explains where the product comes from and what similar items you can eat and drink with it, especially what flavors are pronounced in whatever region it comes in. I've started cooking with Reblochon cheese so reading this book was helpful since French cooking is pretty much my favorite. So many cheese makers out there have their own recipes for use of their cheese, so its good to know what it was intended for and to use that exact type, as it might alter the taste of the item being cooked.

I suggest to read it from cover to end and not skip around since this has a novel format, I'm still going it through it myself, full descriptions are coming up :)
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Why does a country need 250 kinds of cheese? Or is it 650? 27 juillet 2013
Par Amateur curmudgeon - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
This is not a French cheese catalog or guidebook, although there is some of that in it. This is an essay, a paean of all things cheese.
Why does any country need 258 kinds of cheese? In fact, the actual number of French cheeses is one of those mathematical unknowns and it ranges, depending on your source between 227, 350 or more than 650.

Kathe Lison did not set out to taste all of those cheeses. What she wrote is a chronicle of a love story. Of her love of French cheese and her search for truth, cheese truth.

And there is truth in cheese as we will see from perusing the pages of this neat book. There is also a great degree of hype and legend, but underneath it all, there is just milk, and bugs, and hard work.

I would write more but, after reading this book I have an irresistible craving for some Roquefort and I am going to do just that. Eat my Roquefort, and dream about cheese.
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
For the love of cheese 4 août 2013
Par Uh Oh - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
I wanted this book as I have a huge love for cheese, cheese of all kinds. It eat cheese almost daily. While I thought this was very well written, I thought it would have been perfect if it had some pictures.

This book made me hungry. I learned a lot about cheese, even though I eat tons I know very little.

If you love cheese, even not as much as me, it's still a good read!
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Taste Bud's Delight 1 août 2013
Par Joni Lee - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Whether you are like me and had to look up the definition of fromage, by the way, that's french for cheese, or you know your cheese and delight in the marvel of this dairy based food, you will enjoy this story. As hard as it is to believe, Ms. Lison has created a novel about cheese. This native of Wisconsin whose great, great grandfather owned a dairy farm dives into the world of french cheese in this easy read. I was sucked into her journey into france, with all its wonderful and varied cheeses. Her descriptions made me long for a smooth and slightly bitter blue cheese, which happens to be one of my favorite. In the "The Whole Fromage," Lison goes way beyond the flavor or texture of cheese and dives into the farmers, dairymen and cheese makers that make up this industry. The reader is taken on a journey through France that features the authors skills in weaving a good story with a bit of humor to entertain, and in the end we learn why French cheese is so incredible.

I cannot fully express how enjoyable this book is, and only on a few other occasions have I learned about a specific topic with such ease and entertainment. Whether or not, you are a cheese lover (isn't everyone?) Ms. Lison will take you on a trip that invokes all of your senses and you'll be glad that you could spend the time traveling with her. What this book is not? An authoritative list of french cheeses. What could make this book better? Pictures.
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