The first question one asks on seeing this book is ‘why?’ The answer comes in the introduction: it is that there is now ‘another world of cheese’ beyond the boring old British and European ones we know and love. Those ‘age-old cheese traditions are now being embraced by US artisan cheese producers and, as a result, over the last thirty years a bona fide cheese culture has emerged within the United States’. This may be called The Oxford Companion to Cheese, and it is certainly compiled with the academic rigour one associates with Oxford University Press: each of its 855 entries is written by one of a galaxy of experts on cheese and cheese-men (and, of course, cheese-women) from thirty-five countries, corralled by Professor Catherine Donnelly of the University of Vermont. However, it is a book produced for an American audience – in particular for American foodies on a learning curve about what Donnelly calls ‘a paradox, a remarkably complex food that begins as one simple and humble ingredient: milk’. In this authoritative book, American cultural imperialism, a bane of our lives for decades, makes perhaps its most ambitious bid yet to appropriate for Uncle Sam something whose cultural roots are in Europe.
This does not mean that The Oxford Companion to Cheese is second-rate, though some of its grammatical howlers might have been spared us. Notably, in reference to cheese mites, we have the eye-opening ‘Despite their abundance in some types of cheese and their potential negative economic impact, scientists