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Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and its Place in Western Civilization

Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and its Place in Western Civilization


14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right,

Isaiah 7:14-15

When it comes to food and gastronomy in general, I confess I am but an amateur, and others are far better at explaining those topics than me. One of my favorite foods is cheese, and thankfully, Paul S. Kindstedt wrote Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and its Place in Western Civilization, a text that explains the history of this beloved fixture of my diet in a manner everyone can understand.

Most books I found on cheese are technical, describing how to make and prepare cheese and its sister product butter. Very few cover its culinary history and background as it pertains to world culture. According to the author himself, the text of this review was written as an attempt to fill this particular void.

According to the subtitle, cheese is rather specific to Western culture while its importance to the Eastern parts of the world (Asia in particular) trends off into nigh irrelevance. Early on in the book, Kindstedt explains how this curious bifurcation of interest in cheese and milk products occurred, then immediately resumes the rest of the book focusing on the Western cultures and how cheese is integral to their histories.

There are four major points his text covers. First, the exact chronological points at which cheese entered into the food palate of every culture discussed and why are given rigorous detail. Second, the religious, social, medical, and other factors of this food item and why they were important are also given a studious yet simple-to-understand explanation before he moves on to another culture and its history with cheese. Third, how many modern cheeses enjoyed the world over evolved from much earlier antecedents and how far back they can be traced is repeatedly touched on. Cheese according to Kindstedt has shaped many cultures and practices and it has often served to break down cross-cultural barriers. Finally, the book reaches its end with an overview of the legal issues surrounding the sale, production, and import of cheese internationally (as of the time the book was completed), and asks the reader to consider what they learned and how they would like to see this food product's history continue.

I took a few things away from his analysis of the history of cheese of my own. First, cheese and religion are shown to have a very close connection, to the point those studying the Abrahamic faiths especially should certainly consider this a fine companion book for any religious history study. Kindstedt also emphasizes that cheese has had a powerful economic and political role over the centuries, to the point that entire regions were seized simply to corner the market on this curdled milk product. Finally, if you want a good primer on where most of the most famed names in cheese like Cheddar, Parmigiano, Roquefort, Emmental, and so on got their common origins, then this book is a fine way to learn.

Overall, if you are a food history nut or simply a cheese fan like myself, I recommend hunting down a copy of this book, though hardcover editions are a bit expensive. It can currently be purchased on Amazon in hardcover, paperback, and on Kindle.

(Amazon Affiliate Link)


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