There are many books about cheese. There are plenty of books that depict mice, and their love of cheese. And countless children's book authors and illustrators have figured out clever ways to show the alphabet, but none with the specific dedication to dairy products and rodents as seen in A, B, Cheese!: The Alphabet Book About Cheese by Paul Koob.
While worn and grease-stained copies of The Cheese Primer and The Murray's Cheese Handbook occupy sacred space on any aficionado's shelf, Chicago-based Koob's self-published pages simplify things somewhat. The pamphlet reminds us of the most fundamental educational qualities of food, since collecting brief stories about 26 cheeses from A to Z, paired with drawings of expressive mice dressed in historical garb engaging in various cheese-centric activities, is as good a method as any to help teach the alphabet. (A glossary is also included.) And frankly, a couple of fart jokes don't hurt, either.
But if readers are more sincerely interested in Neufchâtel and Weisslacker — and presumably know their ABCs — add A, B, Cheese! to the pantheon of irreverent books that on the surface are children's books, but are perhaps equally or better appreciated by adults. (By the way, no disrespect meant to the beloved Remi.)
Koob, a graphic novelist and designer whose clients include Chicago's famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company, answered a few questions for Squid Ink via email about how this little book came to be. Keep reading to learn more about Koob's inspiration, research methods, how he selected the cheeses to illustrate, and which is his favorite.
Squid Ink: Why use cheese to illustrate the alphabet?
Paul Koob: It all started as a fun research project — a way to learn more about cheese. As I gathered more and more interestingly weird information, it became apparent that a book just needed to happen. I chose the alphabet book format as a fun way to organize the information and to challenge myself to find an interesting/funny/weird cheese for every letter.
SI: How did you research the book?
PK: I started by gathering cheeses for every letter of the alphabet. That was the easy part! There are plenty of websites (including Wikipedia and Cheese.com) which offer extensive alphabetical lists of cheeses. The difficult part was finding at least one cheese per letter which fit the criteria I had settled upon for the book (see below). Once I found a couple good options for each letter, I cross-referenced the information for each with other websites, books borrowed from cheese-loving friends, and local cheese mongers.
SI: Have you tasted every single cheese you write about?
PK: I've tried all but three or four of the cheeses in the book. Most are available at (or can be ordered through) your local cheese counter. The rest can be found online.
SI: How did you make the final 26 selections? Were they based on best backstories? Best cheeses? Best ideas for illustrations? A bit of all of the above?
PK: For me, a major part of appreciating something (food, art, music) comes from knowing a bit of background. It's easy to find out where a cheese is made, which wine to drink with it, or how stinky it is. But knowledge of a bizarre local legend, quirky production process, or interesting name origin might make me seek out a more obscure cheese or enhance my appreciation of a more common one. So each cheese in the book had to come with a fun or little known bit of information not readily available through most cheese reference sources.
SI: What do you think of as the target audience?
PK: I think avid cheese buyers are the primary audience for “A, B, Cheese!” Whether you're a cheese expert or just like cheese a lot, the book will enhance your experience. It's also fun for kids and is a great way for parents who love cheese to spark that interest in their children. On a broader level, the format/content of the book is a novelty perfect for anyone who wants a cute, funny book for their coffee table.
SI: What's your favorite cheese?
PK: It's too tough to pick just one! My favorite cheese in the book is Explorateur (also my favorite illustration.) And I love a good, old Gruyere when it's all caramely tasting!