Monday, October 22, 2012


I used to talk to this Gordon Edgar fella back when he sold records at the Maximum Rocknroll record store "Epicenter Zone" in San Francisco, around about 1991-93 or thereabouts. Very nice, talkative guy; no attitude whatsoever, and a sort of post-hippie political/peace punk vibe about him, if my memory serves. He's one of the many people of that era whom I used to regularly see at shows or in record stores whom I'd forgotten about or who left town ages ago, so a year ago I was pretty heartened to see that the man was now a "Cheese Monger" - nay, the cheesemonger - at a local grocery co-op, and had written a book about his journey from punk rock to cheese connoisseurship. I've got some pretty esoteric, obsessive tastes of my own, you know, and figured he'd probably have a couple of good tales to spin that would fit into an offbeat sort of coming-of-age narrative.

"CHEESEMONGER: A LIFE ON THE WEDGE", his book, is, in fact and as expected, a fairly fun and none-too-challenging read. You can approach it a couple of ways, or both ways if you wish. One is a personal tale of how Edgar approaches and reconciles his world leading the cheese revolution behind the counter at Rainbow Grocery with his own ideals, values and self-image. The other is a book about great cheese; stinky, rindy, rennet-less or even red, with informative and humorous chapter endnotes that help to educate greenhorns like myself about the various "cheese genres", along with some top-shelf representative examples that one might buy. Edgar's the same sort of humble, no-nonsense, self-reflective guy I vaguely remember from twenty years ago. He's still expressing a great deal of bemusement at how much he now knows about great cheese, to the point where he's an expert flown out to speak on panels and such. At the same time, he works at a socialist grocery store full of "worker-owners" like himself, and deals on a daily basis with the type of smug, needy people a store like that often attracts, from the politically high-minded, to the lactose-intolerant, to the generally intolerant.

I'm always a little skeptical of someone in their forties who still identifies at a "punk", yet thankfully he tones this down for the most part, likely because his world has moved on to be consumed by cheese, by and large. He's also pretty well aware that his "punk morals and values" transfer only slightly to his current vocation, and therefore doesn't try to hammer out any sort of equivalence between the world of cheese dorks and politically-minded punk rockers. Edgar's quite reverent of the family farmer and the many people who get their hands dirty making cow, sheep and goat cheeses for his and other stores (and for rich people), but he also exposes a lot of the marketing BS that goes into artisanal food production and retail in 2012. He definitely has a good-cheese-for-the-people ethos that seeks to educate the masses, and yet he takes pains not to condemn the wealthy folks who generally buy the best cheeses, both at his store and at specialty cheese shops.

I was a bit surprised at how often the book repeats itself, though. The narrative is not exactly linear, and while it's extremely readable, I found myself thinking on multiple occasions that Edgar had made a point in almost the exact same words only a couple of chapters beforehand. Given this gentleman's assumed lack of writing experience, that he can string sentences together this well should be applauded, but the book at times has the feel that there's an editor looming in the background, cracking the whip and shouting, "Longer! The book needs to be longer!". All told, I had a good time reading the thing, and I took some notes for the next time I feel like I wanna blow double digits on a hunk of triple-cream artisanal cheese from a small family-run dairy or some such.