by Michael Paterniti
While working as a part-time sandwich maker and copy editor at a gourmand deli in the early 1990s, Michael Paterniti was enchanted by an incredible cheese. The Paramo de Guzman was a handcrafted masterpiece that tasted like nothing else, made by a Spanish farmer in a small town “just as his mother had made it”. A decade later, Paterniti (now a respectable writer) tracked down the Paramo de Guzman's creator, a hulking yet poetic cheesemaker named Ambrosio, and innocently asked for the story of the cheese. Ambrosio led Paterniti into a small, cramped cave – his bodega - and over several hours told him an astonishing tale of betrayal, theft and revenge. Paterniti, caught up in the grandiose legend, became determined to write a book about the cheese.
Michael Paterniti's book starts off with a rich story: a Spanish man creates an amazing, old-fashioned cheese that takes the culinary world by storm, but when his business partner betrays him the cheesemaker swears to never make the cheese again. The first half of the book is full of passion for the story as Paterniti revels in the mythos of the cheesemaker, one Ambrosio Molinos. I became absorbed in this dramatic tale of cheese and friendship and life in rural Spain.
But somewhere, the book starts faltering. Paterniti, himself a character, has been chasing the story of the Spanish cheese for decades, but he seems unable to finish the story. So the story drifts and slackens and the rich dramatic tension evaporates. The focus has shifted from Ambrosio and his amazing cheese to Paterniti and his uncertainty over how to finish the story without losing his friendship with Ambrosio. The author goes into debt as book deadlines are missed and contracts canceled. And somewhere in all this mess, I stopped caring about the story he was telling.
Nowhere is the lack of focus more revealed than in the copious footnotes, which are rarely substantial and often ramble for several paragraphs about obscure Spanish history or sports trivia. Initially, they're entertaining, but once the novelty wears off the footnotes instead reveal the same scattered notes found in the main text.
3 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Hetalia Vol. 3 by Hidekaz Himaruya
2011: Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
2010: The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs
2009: News: Neil Gaiman's Library on Shelfari
2008: Forgotten Fashion by Kate Hahn