Friday, May 30, 2014

The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti

First, there was the cheese. It was a tin of artisanal Spanish cheese in a time when hand-made foods were not appreciated in the United States, the early 1990s. Ari Weinzweig, who owned a delicatessen in the college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, brought it along when he returned from traveling in Europe. He wrote about it in his deli newsletter.                                              
 Second, there was the writer. Michael Paterniti’s job was to proofread that newsletter. Since he was a poor college student, he was unable to taste the twenty-two dollar a pound cheese. However, on the basis of the description he edited, he admired and coveted it. After finishing school, he became a successful writer, and years after his non-tasting of the wonderful cheese, he decided to pursue its story.
Third, and most importantly, there was the cheesemaker, Ambrosio Molinos, who spent years perfecting and marketing the old family cheese, Paramo de Guzman, only to eventually lose the business to financial problems, due to betrayal by a boyhood friend. 
Paterniti traveled to Spain to track down the cheese and its maker. He became enamored of the remote village of Guzman, even moving his young family there for a year. He loved the sunny farm fields, the well-tended vineyards, the quaint homes and their eccentric inhabitants with their old Castilian way of life. He was most taken with Ambrosio Molinos, cheesemaker and storyteller extraordinaire. In the hills surrounding Guzman are a series of caves called bodegas belonging to the farmers. Here they store their wine and cheese. Each bodega had a contador, a room once used for keeping track of inventory, now used for meeting friends, drinking, eating and telling stories. Hence, it is the “telling room.” The telling room is where Ambrosio tells Paterniti the story of the cheese: the development, growth and success of the family business and its sad demise. 
Michael Paterniti writes beautifully about Spain, its countryside, people, history and food. The Telling Room: a Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese is an unusual and intriguing story.