Reading Frenzy ~ An Independent Press Emporium

Gordon Edgar Interview, In-Store Reading this Sunday!

We are so lucky to have Gordon Edgar stop by this Sunday to read from his new book Cheesemonger and share some of his favorite cheeses. Edgar is a long time activist and resident cheese aficionado at Rainbow Grocery in SF. I recently chatted with him in anticipation for his reading. Cheesemonger is both informative and charming, as is Edgar himself, so definitely head to the shop this Sunday!

How would you describe the growing cheese movement, an expanding number of people interested in cheese, people experimenting with different cultures?

In my 15+ years of cheese work the interest has really exploded. It seems a lot like the beginnings of the craft beer/microbrew era where all of a sudden questions I get asked went from very basic to extremely esoteric. American cheesemaking has exploded. The first year I went to the American Cheese Society Conference I think there were a couple hundred cheeses in the cheese competition. Last year there were 1300! Oregon is actually a particular hotbed. Tami Parr does a good job of chronicling this on her blog, the Pacific Northwest Cheese Project http://pnwcheese.typepad.com/

Is SF in particular a hotbed for this growing interest in cheese?

I think so. It's a "foodie" town because of its long history of food activists and hedonism. We also have amazing distribution and are able to get -- far more easily than some cities -- a wide variety of cheese.

For someone who isn't a connoisseur of cheese, diving in might seem overwhelming, where do you suggest people start?

Go to a place where they sell a lot of cheese and ask for a taste of whatever they have behind the counter. If they are rude to you, go someplace else and try again. Or, you can go into a store (or cheese bar) and say, "I like sharp cheddar, what should I try next?" Any good cheese seller will be happy to help!

You say you began knowing next to nothing, what moment sparked your need to know more/discover the world of artisan cheeses?

Tasting a year-old Gruyere (Swiss mountain cheese) and realizing how amazing and complex food could be. A lot of people who work in food have their moments and that was mine. It's like when you have your first good beer or decent coffee. It awakens the senses and it made me want to explore.

You've corrected the description "punk activist", saying that you are more post-punk than anything, can you elaborate briefly on your roots in activism and how they've evolved and translated to where you are today?

Really I was correcting "former punk" and jokingly said that I'd rather be called "post punk", mostly because that Rough Trade era of punk is my favorite. I was always more interested in the political end of punk rock and that led me (in the '80s) to anti-apartheid, anti-intervention in Central America, and pro-reproductive rights activism. Through those political collectives I became interested in worker cooperatives and got a job at Rainbow Grocery Cooperative. That's where I found cheese.

I hear there have been cheese samples on your tour so far, what kind of treat can we look forward to?

We have an assortment of things, I'm packing the cooler right now! We have some Rogue Creamery Blues and Cheddars from up your way, some Harley Farms fresh goat cheese with edible flowers (hella pretty!), a Gouda from Wisconsin with nettles, a sweet Cheddar from Iowa, and an oozy, mild French Brie.

interview by Anika Sabin