Sunday, September 15, 2013

by Michael Paterniti

Blame it all on Zingerman's, a local deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Back in 1991, it had already become quite a legend to its customers. Everything they cooked was homemade and they used traditional recipes, the way they were done in the old country. Their shelves oozed with exotic products from all over the world bought by the owner Ari Weinzweig. He put out a monthly newsletter describing his jaunts searching for the next best thing in the food world.
It was into this milieu that Michael Paterniti applied for a job to be a sandwich-maker. Paterniti had finished graduate school and was trying to sell some of his stories. No dice. Instead of dealing with mayo and mustard, Zingerman's hired him to proofread the newsletters which were quite popular with the public.
In October, the deli was celebrating Spanish cuisine. Ari expounded (in the newsletter) on a particular kind of cheese (he disovered on a trip to London) made from Churra sheep in Castile. It was so delicious yet so expensive ($22 a pound) that it made him nervous to even attempt to sell it.
Nine years later, Paterniti would meet the maker of this marvelous cheese in Guzman, Spain named Ambrosio Molinos. Created from a family recipe, it was born out of love. Unfortunately by the time Paterniti arrived, the cheese was no longer being made. Paterniti sought to find out why, what happened in a small village where there are secrets that are only revealed in a small cave dug into a hillside known as "the telling room."
What an incredible story! It's hard to believe that Paterniti had so much trouble selling his stories after he graduated because this one is tremendous. I already knew about his great writing when I read his first book Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain published in 2000. Talk about quirky and unique.
The Telling Room is just as unique but much more masterly. The characters, village life, the landscape, the cheese is all told in vivid detail. There are many footnotes but don't be alarmed by them because they are needed. Each one is a story in itself.
An absolutely wonderful read.
Highly recommended.