I feel like I've been waiting for this book forever, or at least for any time in the last decade or so (it seems like only yesterday when I was eyeing the first River Cottage handbooks in what used to be the big Waterstones in town, but it was 2007, and that branch has gone) the series wouldn't have been complete without it.
It's hard to overstate my enthusiasm for the River Cottage handbooks, there is nothing that I do not love about them. The variety of writers who have contributed to the series, each bringing a distinctive voice, but always making them feel like friends contributing to a conversation, the whole philosophy behind the books, the breadth of things they cover, the way they make you feel you can have a go at anything from curing bacon, to skinning a rabbit, to making a cheese, and so much more inbetween. All of it just makes these books special, and I've not even mentioned that they fit in a pocket (particularly handy for the foraging titles) or the really useful range of recipes that don't just cover the obvious choices for any given subject. They're just great.
Cheese really isn't my passion; I will never understand the appeal of something that smells like it died some time ago, relies heavily on mould, or oozes across the plate towards you, all of which puts me in a significant minority amongst the people I know. I do like all sorts of hard cheeses, goats cheese, and other things that don't smell like socks that have been left on a corpse, but I always assumed that I'd be reading this book with a view to acquiring some general knowledge rather than in a will do spirit.
Now that I've actually got my hands on 'Cheese and Dairy' though, the desire to do is increasing. That's mostly on the yoghurt/labneh/crème fraîche/mascarpone front, and I'm not really sure how practical a proposition it is to make your own Crème Fraîche, even if you are going to turn some of it into mascarpone when you live more or less alone. That's especially true because I can't actually remember when I last bought either, but still, at least I now know how.
I'm also actually quite surprised, and excited, by the variety of cheese styles it's practical for the home cook to make - which certainly demonstrates what a lost art cheesemaking has become. Not so very long ago this is knowledge which would have been much more widespread, at least in rural areas and farming families.
What interests me most here though is the discussion about different sorts of milk and the processes involved in its commercial production (so the differences between raw milk, pasteurised milk, and that filtered stuff that keeps an unfeasibly long time) and milk from different animals. Even if I don't see myself as a would be cheese maker I do like to have a better understanding of what I'm buying. The sections that explain all this are short but very informative so you get a good overview, or a very good place to start before moving on to more detailed research.