American Cheese

Author Joe Berkowitz
Published 2020
Rating 5/10
Status Finished on 2020-11-11

What a book. I have some scattered thoughts:

  • The writing is gleefully, uh, cheesy. I mean that in an earnest way: it is written pretentiously, it is littered with awful puns, it is delightfully entertaining, it is punchable.
  • I am more interested (and knowledgable) about cheese than when I started the book, which is perhaps the only endorsement this book needs.
  • Around forty percent of this book involves the author palling around at various cheese conferences. This portion should have been wholly excised and the book would have been much stronger for it.

The most interesting parts of the book come when the author has sudden and fleeting moments of clarity (“am I an absolute hypocrite for indulging in this culture despite being a vegetarian, given that the dairy industry exploits animals?” and “faced with objective proof that my palate is underdeveloped, have I not actually learned anything at all about cheese besides proper nouns?”). The truth is that I liked this book because it was a microcosm of all consumerist movements. You could replace the references to cheese with craft beer or sourdough or cocktails and I’m sure there are identical books for all three; this is a book about how fun it is to dive into a weird subculture for a little, even as it passes you by. That part felt resonant.

Highlights

There are thousands of cheeses, but only sixty types of shark.