Full disclosure: Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge (Chelsea Green, $17) isn't a cookbook at all, but I'm sneaking it in here anyway because of Wisconsin's fondness for cheese.
One of my UW-Madison college-mates, originally from New Jersey, claimed that she couldn't order anything in Wisconsin that didn't have cheese melted over it, to which my response would be something like, "Your point being?"
Suffice it to say that although we consume a lot of cheese in Wisconsin, we are not all-knowing or sometimes even very smart when it comes to cheese varieties, or what to do when faced with an upscale cheese counter. I learned a lot from reading Cheesemonger. If nothing else, you will definitely know what Taleggio is by the time you finish the book. (It's what Edgar calls a "gateway" cheese, "for people who want to learn to love the stink"; a.k.a. "The Italian Brie." And the pink color is supposed to be there.)
Author Gordon Edgar happens on a job at the Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in San Francisco, the Bay's biggest natural food store. It's a position he wants more for the non-hierarchical working conditions at the co-op than out of a passion for cheese ("I grew up on Velveeta and Kraft singles," he writes, and "I will admit I fudged my interest in cheese when applying for my job"). But he learns on the job and ends up taking the co-op from a pedestrian selection of bulk cheeses to carrying an eclectic variety of artisan-made specialties as well as good, affordable cheeses.
Cheesemonger is a breezy read -- I read it in about a day -- yet its style is at times an uneasy marriage between a personal narrative and a cheese primer. While I enjoyed reading about Edgar's learning how to run the co-op's cheese counter, I did get tired of his frequent references to having been a punk-anarchist back in the 1980s. While he frequently implies there's a relationship between being an anarchist and becoming a cheesemonger at a co-op grocery, I didn't completely understand what the connection was supposed to be. Edgar brings a punk 'tude to the profession, which might be more noteworthy to readers who are less familiar than I am with shopping at grocery cooperatives.
But the best parts of the book are about Edgar's education in cheese, learning how to read what a customer wants, which kinds of cheese he can sell, and how to trust vendors and sales reps. As he becomes more learned in cheese, so does the reader.
And Edgar has great taste in cheese -- judging from the fact that some of his favorites are from right around these parts. In the extended cheese writeups that close each chapter, he shines the spotlight on Ocooch Mountain from Brenda Jensen's Hidden Springs Creamery, Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese, in Dodgeville, aged cheddar from Widmer's Cheese Cellars in Teresa, Grand Canaria from Carr Valley, and Dante from the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative.
The book also contains a couple of edifying sections about raw milk cheeses. The FDA recently decided against changing its regulations about aging periods for raw milk cheeses (60 days) but if the 60-day time frame and the "raw" question has ever perplexed you, read chapter five, "The Milk of Human Neurosis."
So, if you're a cheese lover, would-be cheese buyer, or just want to know more about cheese without having to contend with a lot of cheese snobbery, Edgar's your cheeseman.