Milk by Anne Mendelson

Book Review 2009

We've been slowly savoring this book for several weeks now, reading a few lovely snippets before bed and poring over recipes during breakfast. It's started to feel like a constant companion - always ready to share some fascinating bit of milk-related trivia we never knew! Take a look...

Title & Publisher: Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through The Ages, by Anne Mendelson. Published by Alfred A. Knopf 2008

First impressions: We're suckers for covers and this one drew us in immediately. The nostalgic, elegant feeling of that milk bottle and the scripted font definitely sets the tone for the book. The first few pages jump right into the history of milk production, establishing a voice of calm authority. This tall hardback should hold up well over time, though we needed to use something heavy to hold it open while cooking.

Number of recipes: There are about 120 recipes. They cover basic DIY recipes, like making yogurt and mascarpone, as well as recipes from around the world showing how dairy is used in each culture. Although the recipes themselves aren't necessarily that that new or ground-breaking, it's Mendelson's choice of which recipes to include and how they're arranged that's inspiring. By following saag paneer with a recipe for Irish champ, you see how two cultures are making use of the same ingredient and you appreciate the recipes in new ways. We tried several of the recipes and found them to be good, solid dishes. The recipe instructions are also easy to follow, even when a particular dish was unfamiliar to us.

The other stuff: The first half of the book gives an in-depth history of milk and the role it played in various cultures. Mendelson then goes on to talk about our modern milk industry in the United States, including both scientific and a political angles. The second half of the book is devoted to recipes, which are divided into those using fresh milk, yogurt, cultured milk, butter, and fresh cheese. Each of these subsections begins with an detailed look at that particular form of dairy.

The angle: This book could definitely have taken on a distinct political bias, but Mendelson manages to stay pretty fair-minded through the entire book. She presents arguments both for and against modern dairy practices, and she's very careful to consider all the angles of topics like pasteurization, raw milk, and lactose intolerance. We really appreciated that Mendelson gives us a solid foundation of facts and then leaves us alone to make up our own minds.

If Mendelson has any bias at all, it's insisting on good quality milk and dairy products that are as close to their original form as possible!

Strengths: This is the kind of book that changes the way you think. You can't read it and look at any dairy product the same way again. In both the history sections and the recipes, Mendelson emphasizes over and over this incredible process of transforming raw milk into countless different forms. By the end of the book, you can't help but agree, "Yes! Milk really is the most amazing ingredient ever!"

We are coming away from this book with a much better appreciation for milk and all the ways it can be used in cooking. What's more, we're excited about it!

Weaknesses: A map showing the areas of historical milk production overlapped with modern geography would have been very handy. We also would have appreciated a few tables or an appendix to use as a quick reference guide when shopping or just to better visualize the information. Also, many of the recipes contain ingredients that may be hard to find or useful for only that particular dish; to us this is represents a hurdle to actually making the dish.

Recipes for right now: Irish Champ, Creamed Spinach, Yogurt-Semolina Cake with Lemony Syrup, Lamb Kofte in Yogurt Sauce, Punjabi-Style Sweet Lassi, Southern Buttermilk Pie, Beef Stroganoff. (We'll be giving the recipe for Anne Mendelson's Beef Stroganoff tomorrow!)

Recommended? Yes

Why? This book is an excellent resource on one of the most frequently used ingredients in our kitchens. We'll be keeping a copy on our bookshelf, for sure.

Buy the book: Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through The Ages by Anne Mendelson, $20 on Amazon.

More Book Reviews from 2009
Cooking for Two by Jessica Strand
Fresh Food From Small Places, by R. J. Ruppenthal
Picture Yourself Cooking with Your Kids, by Beth Sheresh
Eat Feed Autumn Winter, by Anne Bramley
The Complete 15-Minute Gourmet, by Paulette Mitchell
Heirloom Beans, by Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo

(Image from Amazon.com)

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