Comes with the territory, that I often meet people who will say something like, “Oh, I don’t know nearly as much about cheese as I do about beer…” or,  “I love tasting beer with cheese, but there are so many different styles of beer these days, I don’t know where to start.”

I like to tell them (whether they seek my advice or not), that the best way to learn more is to taste and read.  Those who already know about cheese hear about Michael Jackson (“…but I do love beer!”), and the beer geeks get an earful on Max McCalman:  “He’s the Michael Jackson of the artisan cheese world,” I tell them.

Seeing that it is now the middle of July, I should avoid calling this a Summer Reading List, but hey, I live in Chicago, where every year we expect summer to last until Thanksgiving, and that the Cubs will finally get back to the World Series. Call it what you will, but here is a list of some of my favorite books on beer and cheese:

  1. Mastering Cheese, Lessons in Connoisseurship from a Matre Fromager; Max McCalman and David Gibbons, (2009). Reading this one takes me back to when I first encountered Michael Jackson’s works on beer some 15 years ago. Upon reading Mastering Cheese, beer writer Randy Mosher said it was the most informative and interesting book he had read lately on any topic. Filled with great, up-to-date information and gorgeous photos, McCalman’s books will turn you into a cheese geek, and look great on your coffee table. Cheese, a Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best, (2005) by the same authors, is a must-have A to Z reference to 200 great cheeses.
  2. The Great Beers of Belgium; Michael Jackson (1993). Sure, anyone new to beer might want to start with something more fundamental. And yes, there are fresher guides to beer Belgium than Jackson’s (last update in 1998), but this title has The Master writing about the beers he may have loved the most. It absolutely transports the reader, and has inspired geeks worldwide to transport themselves to a small European country they might have otherwise overlooked. Sadly, with Jackson’s passing in 2007, his tremendous body of work is now finite. A 30-year career produced plenty to pick from starting with The New World Guide to Beer (1977) and concluding with Beer: Eyewitness Companions (2007). The Beer Hunter BBC Series, which aired in 1989, is available (although not widely) on DVD, and on VHS, and there is no better way to get your feet wet (or should I say your moustache) than with the six-part series.
  3. Tasting Beer, An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink, Randy Mosher (2009). Mosher’s comprehensive book now serves as the most useful primer on what beer is all about. Thoroughly researched and a pleasure to read, Tasting Beer is a great starting point for cheeseheads who want to understand beer as we know it in the 21st century.  Mosher is now describing a beer world that Jackson helped create, and he does an excellent job of it.
  4. The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese, Jeffrey P. Roberts (2007). These kinds of books are out-of-date almost as soon as they are in print, but there are so many good stories here that it remains a must-have for anyone interested in American artisan cheese and its parallels with craft beer. Roberts discovered more than 340 artisan cheese makers in the U.S., and those are just the ones for which there was enough information to fill a page in this lovely book. Atlas Includes a few style-specific beer pairing suggestions.
  5. Travels with Barley, A Journey Through Beer Culture in America, Ken Wells. Published in 2004, Travels anticipates craft beer’s transition from a geeky niche to a keystone of current pop culture. Wells, a Wall Street Journal reporter, took a literal trip along the full length of the Mississippi River looking for the perfect beer joint and the essence of American beer. Along the way he discovered craft beer, and hung out with craft beer gurus at events in Portland, Ore., and Houston. Wells comes close to finding what might be the best beer joint in America, but concludes that a beer joint “can pop up anywhere.” He also finds that as complex and interesting as beer can be, the cold can of PBR on a fishing trip with your father has lost none of its significance. The salient point is this: A real reporter, who was not the slightest bit a beer geek at the outset of the story, could not dismiss craft beer as part of the larger picture of beer culture. The fact that Wells actually became a beer geek, shows how significantly the American beerscape has changed in the last 30 years.
  6. Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge, Gordon Edgar (2010). This is a fun book for anyone who likes to buy artisan cheese, and essential for those who sell it. Edgar is a product of the San Francisco politico—punk scene who got into cheese while working as an owner-employee at a food co-op. Of course he fell in love with cheese. Edgar is very funny. Be warned that you will be chortling in public if you read this one on the bus or the train.
  7. Ambitious Brew, the Story of American Beer, Maureen Ogle (2006). Ogle is a true historian who loves subjects that perspire with folklore (she has also written books about Key West, and the history of household plumbing). Ambitious Brew offers detailed research and thorough presentation, and it’s fun to read.
  8. The Brewmaster’s Table, Garret Oliver, (2003). This is the only book I know of  that looks at the spectrum of pairing possibilities for beer and fine food. It’s a hefty read, at times the pace is slow, and It also leans heavily toward European beer (and slightly toward beer snobbery). But Brewmaster’s Table is packed with great information and insights. It even has some brief references to cheese and beer.
  9. The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, Charlie Papazian (Third Edition 2003). Yes, there are other books and authors who might offer a deeper technical guide to home brewing. Sure, home brewers should read those, and the excellent “style books” published by the Brewers Association. That said, I also think every home brewer ought to go back and read the Old Testament. If not, one would risk approaching home brewing the way one might approach mastering the intricacies of rust removal.
  10. The All American Cheese and Wine Book, Laura Werlin (2003). My friend Jeff Roberts recommended this book, knowing that I plan to write a book about beer and cheese. Werlin lived for some time in wine country, and is also immersed in the artisan cheese community. She knows the material. The loving images presented by Werlin and photog Andy Ryan made me yearn for the salty tang of cheese and the crisp acidity of wine—this beer guy bought a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for the occasion. Werlin covers the wine and cheese basics very nicely, and then she offers step-by-step instructions, charts, and other insights on pairing, plus a bunch of great recipes for cheese-based dishes that go with wine, and profiles of wine makers and cheese makers. This makes a super birthday present.
  11. American Curds and Ale, David Phillips (2012)?  This book has to be written.  I have a proposal, an outline, and a table of contents completed, plus more than a dozen of the 100+ pairings that would go into the book.  Literary agents and publishers have been contacted, but I am still looking for one or the other to run with the proposal.  If you, dear readers, know of someone in this arena who might help, please drop me a line at

Sincere apologies to the authors and publishers of the many other great topical books that did not get proper mention here.  Names that readers can Google include Janet Fletcher, Ray Daniels, Stan Hieronymous, Liz Thorpe, Jeff Sparrow, Lew Bryson, Tim Webb, Phil Markowski, and Sam Calagione (for a book that chronicles the launch of Dogfish Head Brewery). –Cheers!  

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