The review copy of “Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese: A Guide to Wedges, Recipes, and Pairings” by Tenaya Darlington has been sitting on my desk for about two weeks now. I can’t stop picking it up and reading through it on my breaks from writing. It is a beautiful looking and wonderfully written book that will serve cheese novices and cheese experts equally well.
Di Bruno Bros. is an iconic Philadelphia gourmet food shop with a world-class cheese selection. They boast the city’s largest and oldest cheese counter. Tenaya, whose Madame Fromage blog I’ve mentioned several times before, is the Di Bruno Bros. cheese blogger. The book covers 170 of the store’s most loved and requested cheese, 30 cheese-focused recipes, and much more.
One of the reasons I can’t put this book down is Tenaya’s writing. When she writes about cheese, you don’t just want to eat it; you want to be its best friend. She gives each cheese a personality. Red Hawk, a U.S. cow’s cheese made from organic milk is described as “a roller derby girl, after a long night at the rink.” Right away, you know that’s going to be some funky cheese, and when it comes to cheese, funk ain’t bad.
“I have an MFA in fiction,” Tenaya told me when I asked about her writing style, “I felt I had a lot of creative license. Believe me, I have moments when I can’t believe I spend so many hours describing dairy, but I find cheese has so much personality and such a range in styles. I don’t think I could have come up with so many creative names for chocolate or coffee.”
Tenaya (pictured at right) wrote the book while shut up in a room that was full of books, and when she got stumped, she says, “I flipped open an anthology of short stories to look for words or images.”
Her writing style makes the book a joy to read. The information in the book makes it one of the most useful cheese books I’ve ever read. In a well-organized format, the book introduces readers to cheeses based on the broad categories she gives them.
- Baby Faces: fresh, unaged
- Quiet Types: approachable, subtle
- Free Spirits: sunshiny, herby (mostly goat’s milk)
- Vixens: rich, decadent
- Mountain Men: bold, Alpine
- Stinkers: whiffy, boozy
- Rockstars: rare, revered
- Wise Guys: old school, mostly Italian
- Sugar Mamas: sweet, desserty
- Pierced Punks: blues
Other helpful information includes:
- How to choose cheese
- How to store cheese
- A comprehensive guide to cheese vocabulary
- How to pair cheese with fruit
- How to pair cheese with wine, beer, spirits, apertifs and even tea
- Tasting menus that suggest cheeses for a board along with accompaniments, drinks, music and even clothing (for the Evening in Paris cheese board, she suggests wearing mules and satin robes)
“Cheese is theatrical,” she said. “You set out your cutting board, which is like a stage, and then you set out your cheeses and fill in with props (olives, nuts, what have you). When people come over, you draw the curtain and everyone gathers 'round. I love that! I also find that hand-crafted artisan cheeses evoke other places and experiences — some cheeses remind you of hiking in the woods, while others smell like freshly cut grass.
“So, atmosphere is integral to cheese, and I do enjoy creating a mood around it to help others notice little details. I actually have a few playlists on Spotify that I use when I serve particular kinds of cheese — I have a playlist for Camembert, for example, and another for Washed Rinds. I know it's a little ridiculous. I like Black Sabbath with stinky cheese. I prefer more ambient music with triple cremes.”
“Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese” isn’t specifically about cheeses that are organic or made in a sustainable manner, but when dealing with artisan cheeses from small producers, sustainability is integral to many of the cheese makers.
Tenaya says, “Many of the cheeses in the Di Bruno Bros. book are made by a single person or by a single family. Those makers take so much pride in what they do, and they practice good stewardship of their land and animals. Most cheese people seem to get into the business because they love their land and their animals, and making cheese is a way to add value to a very challenging way of life. I have so much respect for that.
“When I visit cheese makers, I am always impressed by how many of them are driven by sustainability. Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrenceville, N.J., is a great example — the cheese room is fueled by burning sticks and brush that tree surgeons bring in!”
While I had Tenaya’s attention, I asked her about one of my favorite pairings – blue cheese and beef. I told her that I love a burger with blue cheese, but I find some melt well while others don’t. I asked what her recommendation was for a good blue for burgers.
“I like a rich, salty blue like Birchrun Blue, from Chester County, Pa., or Point Reyes Blue from California. They're both good melters. Birchrun Blue has a mushroomy profile, which makes it especially good to pair with meats.”
Next time I’m at Di Bruno Bros., I’ll definitely be searching those out.
“Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese” is available for pre-order and will be released on May 7.