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American Cheeses: Clark Wolf Hates Intolerance

Sliding in one day too late for my unofficial holiday gift guide for the foodie is American Cheese: The Best Regional, Artisan, and Farmhouse Cheeses (Simon & Schuster, $25) by Clark Wolf. It arrived on my desk the other day and I finally got a chance to look at it.

Wolf is 50-percent a local (he has a 100-year-old cabin up in the Russian River Valley but lives in NYC for a yin-yang balance) and helped open the Oakville Grocery in 1980, the year he says he decided he wanted to write a book on cheeses. This was back in the day of yore, before you could find a good ball of fresh, locally-made buffalo mozzarella. Today, Wolf runs a consulting firm for restaurants and food purveyors and such. Almost 30 years later, he's also finally the author of a book on cheese!

The book is nice and chatty and unpretentious—mostly a straight-forward guide to farmstead cheesemakers all over the US (no glossy pictures here). It's also testament to the fact that cheesemakers are hard workers. [Sidebar: I was reminded of this when I saw that Laini Fondiller of Lazy Lady Farm in Vermont is included. I did a story on Vermont cheesemakers ages ago for Williams-Sonoma Taste (now defunct) when I was the food editor there. In the middle of winter, we needed a round of Laini's goat cheese sent to us, and Laini, whose farm was literally off the grid, dug her car out of the snow to drive to Fed Ex (miles away) for us, using her good hand because she'd just had surgery done on her other hand due to carpel tunnel from milking goats. I'll never forget that.]

But the thing I like is most is Wolf’s attitude. He’s a live-and-let-live kind of guy and it shows in his philosophy on food and of course, cheese. Some good quotes to ponder:

• “For most everyone who will admit it, whether or not we like food is a quick yes or no. I like it or I don’t. We can change that view and acquire a taste, but I will always find it helpful to let my body lead my mind.”

• “As to wine, let’s face it: Most cheese enjoyed in restaurants goes happily with whatever’s left over from the meal, or one more glass of something else recommended by the waiter. The end of a long, happy evening is not a time to struggle with deep thinking and big choices.”

• “I hate intolerance of almost any sort, but lactose intolerance makes me sad.”