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On The Trail Of The World’s Greatest Cheese

Michael Paterniti wrote about driving cross-country with Einstein’s brain. Now he’s on the trail of the world’s greatest piece of cheese. He joins us.

Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras and Michael Paterniti.

Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras and Michael Paterniti.

Michael Paterniti, it turns out, can write about anything.  Cambodia, Kabul, driving around with Einstein’s brain in a Tupperware bowl.

In his latest book, The Telling Room, he’s writing about the world’s greatest piece of cheese, up country in a cave in Spain.  But it’s really about much more.  About slowing down.  Telling long stories.  Doing one thing incredibly well just for the passion of it, the deep feel and history in it.

About memory and love… and betrayal and revenge.

This hour, On Point:  Michael Paterniti and the story of a magnificent obsession in a piece of cheese.

- Tom Ashbrook


Michael Paterniti, author of “The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese.” (@mikepaterniti)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Boston Globe: ‘The Telling Room’ by Michael Paterniti – “This book could make you fat. It is a tale about cheese and will make you hungry for cheese. But, it is also about pleasure and the past. In the figure of Ambrosio Molinos de Las Heras, the wine-savoring master Castilian cheese maker at the heart of it, Michael Paterniti has found a man whose life story is a lesson in the dangers of combining these two things.”

The Wall Street Journal: How a Piece of Cheese Turned Into an Epic Tale – “Mr. Paterniti first learned of the cheese more than 20 years ago, as a creative writing graduate student in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He read about it in a deli newsletter that he copyedited. Years later, he traveled to Spain to taste it himself. He learned that Mr. Molinos had gone bankrupt and stopped making the cheese, despite having built a fan base that included Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan and Fidel Castro.”

Chicago Tribune: Review: ‘The Telling Room’ by Michael Paterniti – “Because the stuff about the cheese? About the pleasures of food and family and finding meaning in the old ways of life? That’s just the framework. What Paterniti’s really writing about is storytelling itself.”

Excerpt: ‘The Telling Room’ by Michael Paterniti

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  • 2Gary2

    for Christs sake is this drivel the best you can do??

    • Vandermeer

      we need a break from war news… why not think about great cheeses. lighten up 2gary2

      • 2Gary2

        OK I admit I do love a good aged sharp cheddar and blue cheese is heavenly

    • Leonard Bast

      Cheese has very important political ramifications. Charles de Gaulle said, “How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?”

  • J__o__h__n

    I’m still going to listen, but I already know the best cheese is Stilton.

    • Leonard Bast

      A huge wheel of Stilton and a great bottle of Port!

    • Ray in VT

      Geronimo Stilton?

      • J__o__h__n

        I had to google that. Better than the last thing I didn’t know – twerking.

        I’m reading a PG Wodehouse book now and one of the characters is nicknamed Stilton. I was referring to the cheesy comestible variety though.

        • Ray in VT

          I was joking of course. My older son loved the Geronimo Stilton books when he was a bit younger, and I’m glad that it didn’t bring any horror to your eyes via Google.

          I’ve never had stilton, although I am a great lover of cheese. Like many other Vermonters, I believe that good cheddar (Cabot) and maple syrup are essential birth rights.

    • jefe68

      It’s subjective, is it not?

  • Vandermeer

    Cabot’s Cheddars! Just up the road!

  • Leonard Bast

    If he’s on the trail of the world’s greatest cheese, I guess we’ll be seeing him here in Vermont.

  • Citizen James

    I’m enjoying this story. It is a story of slow food from a tradition before slow food was a term. It’s the real thing in the most wonderful of ways.

  • NBFM

    My son received this book as a gift when he hosted a dinner party for friends. He’s in his twenties, an avid, ambitious
    cook for whom slow food and spending time at the table is a great value. He read the book in a weekend and passed it along to me. What a wonderful way to encourage everyone to look up and around at the wonders of a low-tech, simple life filled with great traditions and values. Juxtaposing the cheese quest against the basis for the author’s first trip to Spain to visit El Bulli and Adria offers readers a lot to consider in the definition of great, memorable food.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    It was the summer of 1969 and I got a job picking beans on a small farm operated by an ancient Greek couple. One morning the old farmer who could barely speak English motioned to me to follow him. He led me to their small barn and we harnessed a horse and took him out to a back field where we attached an old fashioned plow.

    I got to lead this majestic animal down the rows and this 80 year old farmer drove the plow he had probably been using since he was a young boy my age.

    I was magical to me as I marveled that in a few weeks, men would land on the moon and create history.

    Today is the second day in a row that I left my smart phone at home. I must wait to see what has happened in smartphone space. Today life seems a bit more magical, perhaps it really is, or perhaps it is just a little less pressure in my modern life.

  • J__o__h__n

    I had hoped this hour would be more on cheese and less of a narrative.

  • Carrie1928

    I was really annoyed by today’s show. It sounded elitist to me, as if a bunch over over-educated white folks were analyzing working people as if they are anthropological artifacts. People making cheese aren’t demonstrating zen or slow cooking or being in the moment; they are simply living, and we don’t get it. We have to analyze, take it apart, elevate — and in essence, objectify. I remember reading “broccoli rabe with raisins and pine nuts” on the menu of an upscale Italian restaurant. Rabe is peasant food; my Sicilian grandmother made it, and I ate it on bread for breakfast. Someone go write a book about this – no, actually, please don’t, because we were just living, eating, and working as we did and as many of my extended family still do. Honestly, Tom, I love your show and listen religiously, but today sounded like snooty, intellectual clap-trap for those whose feet haven’t felt dirt in so long that they think it’s magical or mystical, or mythic or something. Get with the program! Most people don’t scrutinize themselves to excess as we educated elite do, and thank God. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “God must loving the working man; he made so many of them.” I think of my construction-worker father; when I asked him, as a college student, how he could run machines in the hot sun all day long, he answered, “Every fat-assed bureaucrat knows there are 50 guys lined up, waiting to take their jobs. I do what I like doing, working in the dirt.” And “You can educate a person, but you can’t give’em common sense.” Boy, did his words ring true today.

    • skelly74

      Amen! But I think the storytelling is the story. Yes, I sometimes wonder about the sophisticated craftsmen I meet in “resort” destinations, who seem to have a great life doing their craft…living the good life. After talking a few, I realize that this is their second career, or calling; they already cut their teeth and earned their bread in the big city, just like all the other slicks out there. I don’t fault them though, If anything I admire them with envy.

      It all boils down to Romanticism. Nostalgia is the fountain of youth.

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