A beguiling, multifaceted narrative larded with delightful culinary, historical, political, psychological and literary layers, set in the kingdom of Castile with a piece of cheese in the starring role.
Paterniti (Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain, 2000) gracefully unravels how tradition, culture and a sense of place affect the human heart, while simultaneously wrestling with the joys and boundaries of storytelling and journalism. During a 1991 proofreading stint at a deli, following his graduation from the University of Michigan’s creative writing program, the author read a paragraph describing a “sublime” cheese from Castile. “There was something about all of it, not just the perfection of Ari’s prose,” writes Paterniti, “but the story he told—the rustic cheesemaker, the ancient family recipe, the old-fashioned process by which the cheese was born, even the idiosyncratic tin in which it was packaged—that I couldn’t stop thinking about.” Years later, the author, determined to find the storied cheesemaker and learn his tale, set off for Spain on what became a 10-year odyssey. Paterniti rapidly fell under the spell of the loquacious cheesemaker, Ambrosio, and the tiny village of Guzmán, situated in the “vast, empty highlands of the Central plateau of Spain.” At the center of the narrative is the saga of betrayal of Ambrosio and his artisanal cheese by his boyhood friend, Julian. Paterniti’s quest for the true story surrounding the creation and demise of Ambrosio’s cheese rambles in delightful directions. The author probes subjects as diverse as the first human encounter with cheese; an investigation into the origin of Pringles; geology; and Spanish “legends, farces and folktales.”
Enriched by Paterniti’s singular art of storytelling, this is a deeply satisfying voyage across a remarkable landscape into the mysteries and joys of the human heart.