Book Report

'Laura Werlin's Cheese Essentials: An Insider's Guide to Buying and Serving Cheese'

By Bonnie S. Benwick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 3, 2007

It was bound to happen: Cheese-guide authorship has been one-upped with the arrival of "Laura Werlin's Cheese Essentials: An Insider's Guide to Buying and Serving Cheese" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95).

[See Recipes: Chewy Panforte and Roasted Vegetable Pasta With Triple-Creme Cheese]

There are three key ways in which Werlin, a San Francisco-based food writer whose three previous books also were cheese-related, has delivered a sharper, richer approach: organization, effective answers to highlighted questions and her inclusion of 50 interesting recipes.

Werlin has categorized and cross-referenced hundreds of cheeses into eight accessible groups, basically from mild to strong. Each gets its own chapter, with general advice on buying and storage; visual, textural, flavor and aromatic clues; how a cheese "finishes" on the palate; and recommendations on a few noteworthy cheeses within that group. Easy-to-read tables and an unfussy graphic presentation make all this information a cinch to take in.

Her writing style is blessedly casual, so although it's obvious she qualifies as a cheese nerd, she has composed the material to draw readers in, not impress them with her breadth of knowledge. If you've wondered why some cheeses don't melt or why provolone is waxed or how mascarpone differs from cream cheese, those answers are at hand.

The recipe collection features foods that incorporate or complement cheeses, and the dishes attain a level of sophistication without involved directions. Her Sweet-Tart Goat Cheese Salad calls for beets, walnuts treated with confectioners' sugar and cayenne pepper, paper-thin slices of fennel and apple, a raspberry vinaigrette and a Crottin de Chavignol, Le Chevrot or other crottin. Her Chewy Panforte, a popular accompaniment to stronger-flavored or very creamy cheeses, is easy to make and rivals the good imported kind.

And Werlin acknowledges the work of Internet cheeseheads with a list of cheese-related blogs at the back of the book. Because the compact soft-cover compendium is built for traveling, its state-by-state roundup of small cheese shops in the resources chapters can be slipped into a computer bag or glove compartment -- and should be, for its quick and handy references.

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