Over the last few years I have found myself enjoying books written about food, but my favorites talk about the animals that produce food or who become the food we eat. Today I finished a book, Goat Song, my fabulous neighbor Alison lent me. It is a self acclaimed “short history of herding and the art of making cheese.” And true to its book flap, I learned how a New York couple uprooted their lives to raise goats in Vermont and become cheese makers.
What I LOVED about this book was how it was written. Kessler entwined Jewish ancestry, Buddhism, Christianity, ancient history and his deep love of entomology into his treatise on goat rearing and cheese making. For example, he frequently pointed out similarities between cheese making and other things, such as the relation of the word for book (a tome) to a tomme, or wheel of cheese. He also chronicled a step by step comparison of the Passion of Christ with cheese making.
I think what made this book so powerful were all the parallels drawn between working the earth, the art of cheese making and the stories of historical animal tending through the ages. I was drawn in to the history and richness described.
In one chapter, Kessler is concerned about coyotes nearby and the impact they could have on his herd. I learned that female coyotes can decide how many cubs to bear when they mate and all can literally follow in each others tracks leaving only set of prints. Brilliant animals and they way he scared them away…inspired. He and his dog Lola would find fresh scat and both “mark” it. The coyotes took the hint and beat it.
Not only will you learn about coyotes but quite a bit about goats. In fact, much more than you probably ever wanted to know…some of which will be burned into my brain forever. Suffice it to say that male goats are just absolutely disgusting.
The book was full of sage sayings interwoven through, my favorite by Basho: “what is important is to keep mind high in the world of mere understanding, then, returning to daily experience, seek there in the true and beautiful”. Kessler’s thoughts on this which resonate with me still “we live in exile, not from Paradise but from the present. How often do we dwell here?”
Meditative and full of introspection, it is Discovery Channel meets Eat, Pray, Love written in a Michael Pollen tone but with no judgment, simply a love of the land and the milk and cheese produced there. Unlike many sensationalistic or shocking books on food, Kesslar simply shares why he has chosen the life of a cheese maker and what it has taught him. I highly, highly recommend it.