The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America

The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America

The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America

The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America

Synopsis

Cheese is alive, and alive with meaning. Heather Paxson's beautifully written anthropological study of American artisanal cheesemaking tells the story of how craftwork has become a new source of cultural and economic value for producers as well as consumers. Dairy farmers and artisans inhabit a world in which their colleagues and collaborators are a wild cast of characters, including plants, animals, microorganisms, family members, employees, and customers. As "unfinished" commodities, living products whose qualities are not fully settled, handmade cheeses embody a mix of new and old ideas about taste and value. By exploring the life of cheese, Paxson helps rethink the politics of food, land, and labor today.

Excerpt

I love cheese. Growing up in southern Illinois, I considered myself a food snob because I loathed soda and would refuse to touch a sandwich adulterated by a waxy slice of Kraft American. I ate only real cheese, like nicely sharp, not-tooorange Cheddar, or the Baby Swiss my mother bought thinly sliced at the grocer’s deli counter. When I was fourteen, I chronicled the process of making cheese at the Crowley Cheese Factory in Vermont in a photo-story project for my 4-H club. in my twenties, when I stopped eating meat, cheese became even more central to my diet. But really thinking about cheese came later.

The turning point may have been a millennial summer day in New York City, 2000 or 2001, when a student of my (now) husband stopped by with a paper-bagwrapped gift whose pungent odor reached clear across the apartment. It was a generous hunk of cheese, slightly squashed from riding in a backpack. Beneath a tacky, almost shockingly orange rind, a toothsome interior was invitingly strawcolored. It tasted … not as good as the French Époisses we had recently discovered at Murray’s Cheese on Bleecker Street. the cheese continued to ripen in our refrigerator, and I think I actually threw out the last bit of it. But I was intrigued. the student had purchased the cheese at the Union Square Greenmarket. This smelly, sticky, decidedly handmade cheese originated within two hundred miles of Manhattan. Who made it? I wondered. How? Why?

Only later, after I had moved to Massachusetts and was plotting the anthropological research behind this book, did I realize that the Greenmarket cheese must have been Hooligan, a washed-rind cheese made at Cato Corner Farm in Colchester, Connecticut, by Mark Gillman. Back in the late 1980s, Mark Gillman and I attended the same liberal-arts college. He did yard work for the woman . . .

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