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The Art of Natural Cheesemaking by David Asher

This book might just qualify for the longest title for a food book. The full title is "The Art of Natural Cheesemaking: Using Traditional, Non-Industrial Methods and Raw Ingredients to Make the World's Best Cheeses".

It is an extraordinary book! It starts with Asher's manifesto about natural cheesemaking. He says that all you need for making good cheese is "good milk, rennet and salt". He goes on to say:

"This book lays the framework for a more natural cheesemaking, one whose ingredients are simple, whose culture derives naturally from milk, and which is practiced in conditions that are clean but not necessarily sterile, because the cultures are strong and diverse and the cheeses well made".

More interestingly, his manifesto also presents an interesting theory about the use of cultures:

The methods described herein challenge the beliefs of the conventional cheesemaking paradigm. It is dogma among most cheesemakers that the culture of cheesemaking must come from the package; others believe that cheese cultures evolve from the environment in which the cheese is made - including the vat and the cave. But I believe that all of the cultures that make cheese possible are present in the milk...that the cultures of the vat and the cultures of the cave (and even the cultures in the package) all have their origins in the microdiversity of raw milk. And my cheesemaking practice confirms this.

He could just as well have been talking about winemaking where healthy grapes that spring from healthy soil are the hallmarks of natural winemaking where no added yeasts or enzymes are required.

Asher firmly believes that the industrial cheesemaking culture has got it all wrong, just as we believe that the industrial winemaking culture has stripped wine of its naturalness and its vivacity. In fact, he goes further to state that cheesemaking today is based on fear:

Fear of raw milk, fear of foreign bacteria, and fear of fungi. Our milk is is treated and mistrusted; it is stripped of its life through pasteurization, and monocultured strains of laboratory-raised commercial cultures are added to replace its native cultures in an attempt to create a more controlled, predictable, and presumably safer cheesemaking.

So, the manifesto is well worth reading before you get into the specific techniques that follow in the book. The first few chapters after the manifesto discuss the key ingredients with chapters devoted to a discussion of milk, cultures, rennet and salt. He then dives into detailed chapters that lay out the techniques required for transforming milk into yoghurt, paneer, chevre, feta, white-rind cheese, blue cheeses, alpine cheeses, wash-rind cheeses, gouda, whey cheeses and even cultured butter.

Every chapter is intriguing and provides exhaustive detail for making the various products. The text is easy to follow and the techniques are easy to implement - they just require time and patience rather than dexterity.

This is a great book that will be as relevant in 100 years as it is today.

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Food Lovers' Cookbook Collection