In 1991 Michael Paterniti, a recent creative writing graduate, was working part-time at a deli editing its newsletter when he read an article written by the deli owner that was so intriguing it left a lasting impression on him. The piece described a particularly extraordinary Spanish cheese resurrected from an ancient family recipe and made using an age-old process. Fast forward ten years later when a magazine assignment brought Paterniti to Spain, affording him the perfect opportunity to locate the maker of this illustrious cheese and uncover its story.
It is in the rural Castilian village of Guzman where Paterniti finds the cheese-maker, Ambrosio Molino, a farmer whose family settled in the region many generations ago. Páramo de Guzmán, a pleasantly sharp cheese, was once, but no longer crafted by Molino within his bodega, one of many caves dug into the surrounding hillsides. Previously enjoyed and lauded by royalty, heads of state and celebrities, Paterniti was determined to unearth why Ambrosio no longer made his cheese. What triggered its tragic fate?
Above each bodega is an entry room, known to the locals as a telling room. It is a gathering place for the villagers to share meals, drink wine, and tell stories. And it is here in Ambrosio’s telling room where he reveals to Paterniti over the course of many years the story behind the venture that initiated with a piece of cheese created out of immense love but which ended with betrayal, heartache, and a desire for deadly revenge.
With Ambrosio’s expansive and passionate storytelling talent, Paterniti is soon enraptured by the cheesemaker’s version of events leading to the demise of the artisanal cheese enterprise. Admitting to finding it difficult in remaining an objective journalist while trying to separate fact from myth, Paterniti acknowledges that tracking down the other side to Ambrosio’s powerful yet unsubstantiated tale is the only way to ultimately tell the complete and unbiased story of Páramo de Guzmán.
If reading The Telling Room piques your interest enough to explore creating your very own delectable cheese, then check the VBPL catalog for helpful books on the art of cheesemaking. Or, if you’re not quite into making your own but would like further enlightenment on the history of cheese, try Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and Its Place in Western Civilization by Paul Kindstedt.