The European Dialects of Cheese
By Monterey, Jack and Wensleydale, Monty, University of Gloucester
Published 2004 by Buchette d’Anjou in Europe, €5.99/lb.
Published 2005 by Psammeticus Press in the United States, $9.99/lb.
Ms Carpone (Ph.D., F.E.T.A.),
aka La Vache Qui Rit
This comprehensive study of European Cheese dialects contains chapters on historical reconstruction, olfactory linguistics, politics, dialectology and geography. The authors carried out extensive field and cellar research, investigating far flung Swiss cottages, Welsh valleys and French chateaux to collect the necessary data to compile this encyclopaedic tome.
The book begins with an investigation into the historic origins of the Cheese phylum. The writers claim that Cheese indirectly stems from a derivative of Cow spoken somewhere in the Fertile Crescent, and they reconstruct the basic vocabulary of proto-Kurdish. Then, under burning Middle Eastern skies, Cheese spread with early migrants across the table lands of Europe, to settle at last in the valleys of France. The authors identify Fondoux as the melting pot of Cheese, where varieties as diverse as Limberg and Gruyere fused, spawning new varieties like Raclette and Kaseri. During the Dark Ages, when lactose intolerant Vandals and Huns attempted to cream off all Europe’s linguistic riches, monasteries were key to the maintenance of Cheese.
In the chapter on the geographical distribution of Cheese (entitled ‘from Airedale to Zamorano’) we learn that most varieties are spoken by small populations living in relatively isolated pastoral communities scattered throughout France, Italy, Switzerland and southern England. Under the influence of globalization and supermarket forces, languages such as Cheddar are increasingly gaining in popularity, pushing smaller varieties such as Aubisque and Romano to the edge of extinction. While some experts such as Gordon Zola are pressing for preservation programs for endangered Cheese varieties, others object, fearing that such unnatural methodology will only lead to bland processed Cheese. Wales, which has long promoted minority language rights, has seen a recent revival of varieties such as Caerphilly, Cwmtawe Pecorino, and Penbryn.
This leads us logically into the chapter on Cheese language policy and government intervention. Interviews with speakers of Cheese varieties recount harrowing stories of quotas, smoking bans, and European Union directives which threaten to standardise lexicon, pronunciation and aroma. In the interests of impartiality, space is also given to the government’s point of view. Charles de Gaulle once said: ‘How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 kinds of Cheese?’
For those of you wanting to pick up a little Cheese yourselves, the authors recommend you not try one of the harder varieties such as Parmesan. Of course, such apparent great advice is highly subjective—this reviewer crammed in a good chunk of Grana Padana over a bottle of wine in just one evening. But if you are unable to travel to a region where you can immerse yourself in Cheese culture, you can always opt for an intense program of study at a language school. One of the better ones is Onlingua, whose motto is ‘with us, Cheese rolls off the tongue and into your stomach’. Their teachers can help you master the subtle variations between plummy Stilton, crusty Gouda, and the nasal assault of Roquefort (extra mature).
The theoretical aspects of Cheese development are dissected in chapter 6. Treatment is given to the effects of curdling, not to mention yodelling, in the Alps, analysis of obscure compounds, as well as those mysterious Quark particles. Naturally, string theory is discussed at length, with a case study on Mozzarella. Perhaps the only disappointment for me was the rather sketchy section on Emmental, which, quite frankly, was full of holes.
Well, that’s just a slice of Cheese for you. I could say so much more about the palatal niceties of Oszczypek, compounding in Vacherin-Fribourgeois, vowel harmony in Rouleau De Beaulieu, the syntax of Il Boschetto al Tartufo. And I haven’t even scraped the surface of Camembert. But I hope this review has given you at least enough of a taste to want to sample the real thing.