Even in today’s culinary-savvy America of farm-raised, pesticide-free, all-natural, free-range food options, a cheese that costs $22 a pound may seem ridiculous to some.
No matter how rare something is or how well crafted, eventually it’s just too expensive, right?
Michael Paterniti, author of “The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese,” had a different thought.
He first read about the pricey delicacy while working as proofreader of the monthly newsletter at Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor Mich. Written by deli co-owner Ari Weinzweig, the newsletter detailed Ari’s globe-trekking search for new and exciting food stuffs.
Then, in October of 1991, Weinzweig wrote about a very exciting bit of dairy-based craftsmanship that would later inspire Paterniti to go on his own international adventure.
The cheese was made in accordance with an old family recipe by a man named Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras in the highlands of Castile, Spain. It was said to be the greatest cheese in the world. It was said to have near-mystical powers.
Having become captivated with the story of the cheese, and the mysterious old-world craftsman responsible for its creation and the exotic land of its origin, Paterniti found that learning the whole story became an idea “nearly impossible for me to walk away from.”
Paterniti, who’s first book “Driving Mr. Albert” was described as “enchantingly eccentric” by New York Times book critic David Kamp, will be visiting Bainbridge Island’s own Eagle Harbor Book Company, along with Seattle Symphony bass player Jonathan Green (a self-described “foodie and book lover”), from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25 to discuss the book, answer questions and sample a variety of local cheeses and drinks.
This will be the only Seattle area visit by the author.
“I’ve never been and I can’t wait,” said Paterniti about his upcoming visit.
“It’s sort of a mythic place in my mind: an amazing setting, fascinating people and great writers. I became obsessed with it after reading David Guterson’s ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ some years ago,” he added.
His enthusiasm is contagious.
“We’re all very excited,” said Victoria Irwin, the events coordinator for Eagle Harbor Books. “He met one of our owners at a publishers’ party in New York and was going to be in Seattle for something else, so we invited him to visit Bainbridge.
“It’s one of the benefits of being an independent book store; we’re very hands-on about our books and authors and we’re always forging those bonds,” she added. “We know what our customers are going to like.”
Paterniti’s most recent work was a long time coming, and the author said he was glad the wait was over.
“For a book that took 10 years to come together, it’s really nice to have it out in the world at last, that’s for sure,” Paterniti said. “It’s been really fun to get to tour around a little, too, to introduce people to this magical cheese maker and the remote Castilian village he lives in, one full of amazing stories and characters.”
Although it is free and open to the public, the event is ticketed with limited seating available — so it is highly recommended that interested readers reserve a spot.
“We have space for about 100 people,” Irwin said. “Priority seating will be given to customers who buy the book here and reserve a ticket, but we won’t turn anyone away.”
For information on how to reserve tickets, visit the bookstore’s website (eagleharborbooks.com), email the event coordinator (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call 206-842-5332 for the most current availability info.
Readers may find Paterniti’s new novel more of a meal than a morsel.
“It’s ostensibly a book about cheese, a Slow Food tale gone completely awry,” Paterniti said. “But it’s also about the universe and storytelling, purity and history and ultimately it’s a sort of spiritual memoir about trying to go backwards in time to recover the things that most matter.”