Book review: The Cheesemonger’s Tales: Of People and Places, Cheeses and Wines

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Arthur Cunynghame


Loose Chippings Books


Arthur Cunynghame spent 18 years as a wine merchant, then 17 years as a cheesemonger. He is well qualified to write about the pleasures of wine and cheese.

Cheese is – to me, anyway – a complex subject, at least as complex and daunting as wine. Cheesemaking is, as the author writes, a “mix of art and science… no great cheese can be made by science alone; the greatness comes with the art” (p.38). The maturing of Parmigiano Reggiano is described as “more (of) a banking operation than a craft” (p.97), though that is not at all to undermine the work and skills needed to make this great cheese.

Well-cellared wine ages relatively slowly and predictably but cheese ripens unpredictably. Don’t bother with use by dates for ripened cheeses, advises Cunynghame, “because it is actually illegal to sell a product which has passed its ‘Use By’ date” (p.80).

He very perceptively points out, “The seemingly endless quest to eat more cheaply is flawed because, although the price of food may come down, we pay for it in other ways, as many costs of apparently cheap food are hidden” (p.90). Tax-funded transport subsidies, “obesity costs” on the NHS and EU-funded farming subsidies are the culprits.

The en face guides to “Wines to go with cheeses” and “Cheeses to go with wines” (pp.18-19) is a neat summary of what works best with what. Filled with much useful information and written in an easy-going style, The Cheesemonger’s Tales is a very useful introduction to wine and/or cheese for neophytes.


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