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November 23, 2016

As far as this 5pm Dining blog scribbler is concerned, if you don’t like cheese then you don’t truly like food.

One of the oldest foodstuffs, dating back at least 8000 years, the alchemy of cheese making has long been man’s favourite method of preserving precious milk.

Having played such a vital role in the development of civilisation, cheese has ramifications for pretty much every aspect of our lives from commerce to culture.

Cheese-inspired art

Cheese has inspired artists and writers from Homer’s time onwards. It helped fund several European banks; it played a role in the slave trade and it continues to make headlines today – see the ongoing stories about Scotland’s Errington Cheese company.

Have a cheese query?

If you have ever wanted to know more about cheese then you could not do better than to buy The Oxford Companion to Cheese.

It contains 855 entries written by 325 expert authors ranging from cheesemakers to anthropologists. The book examines all aspects of cheese – historical and cultural, scientific, and technical.

Obviously, well known cheeses such as Camembert and Cheddar have their own entries but there are also sections dedicated to lesser known varieties.

World’s oldest cheese?

For example, you are unlikely to stumble across motal paniri at the supermarket cheese counter.

One of the oldest cheeses in the world, it’s an Iranian cheese which is stored in a washed and salted goat skin.

From the hyphae fungal structures found in some cheese to the sexual associations of milkmaids in European cultures, the book covers the bawdy as well as the scientific.

Wallace and Gromit get a mention as does the idea of the moon being made of cheese.

Taking in sources as diverse as the Italian Renaissance writer Giulio Landi to modern romances such as Sarah-Kate Lynch’s novel Blessed Are the Cheesemakers, the book also investigates cheese in literature.

Esoteric cheese knowledge

If you have a serious interest in food, The Oxford Companion to Cheese is an incredibly useful reference book.

And, if you simply enjoy a slice of Gruyere every now and then, it’s a wonderful collection of esoteric cheese knowledge to dip in and out of.

Of course, with Christmas on the horizon, it would also make an agreeable companion to a wodge of Stilton and a glass of port.

The Oxford Companion to Cheese is published by Oxford University Press on the 1st of December.