Book Review: Max McCalman's Mastering Cheese

Max McCalman didn't plan on becoming a cheese guy. While working at the famed restaurant Picholine in New York City, the chef asked for volunteers to help him start a cheese program in the restaurant. It fell to McCalman almost by default. Now, 15 years later, McCalman has written two definitive books on cheese, with the new Mastering Cheese ($40, Random House) his third.

Mastering Cheese is somewhat of a departure from the previous two books, however. Instead of a cheese primer, or an encyclopedia of the world's region's and styles, McCalman has put together a fairly exhaustive course of study for readers who want to make the leap from cheese fan to true connoisseur. It's almost laid out like a modern textbook, with dense text, lots of photographs, informative sidebars, and a bullet point recap at the end of each chapter as study guide. No pop quizzes, thankfully.

McCalman's smart enough to string together the serious work of understanding cheese with plenty of narrative to keep a reader interested. He's also passionate about his subject, especially when it comes to taking restrictive food regulations that limit the importation or production methods of raw milk cheeses. He's preaching to the choir in this book, I imagine.

What makes Mastering Cheese so inherently useful,