The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti

The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti
Publisher: The Dial Press
Publication Date: July 30, 2013
Categories: Regional & Ethnic, Spanish, Nonfiction

In the picturesque village of Guzmán, Spain, in a cave dug into a hillside on the edge of town, an ancient door leads to a cramped limestone chamber known as “the telling room.” Containing nothing but a wooden table and two benches, this is where villagers have gathered for centuries to share their stories and secrets—usually accompanied by copious amounts of wine.
It was here, in the summer of 2000, that Michael Paterniti found himself listening to a larger-than-life Spanish cheesemaker named Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras as he spun an odd and compelling tale about a piece of cheese. An unusual piece of cheese. Made from an old family recipe, Ambrosio’s cheese was reputed to be among the finest in the world, and was said to hold mystical qualities. Eating it, some claimed, conjured long-lost memories. But then, Ambrosio said, things had gone horribly wrong. . . .
By the time the two men exited the telling room that evening, Paterniti was hooked. Soon he was fully embroiled in village life, relocating his young family to Guzmán in order to chase the truth about this cheese and explore the fairy tale–like place where the villagers conversed with farm animals, lived by an ancient Castilian code of honor, and made their wine and food by hand, from the grapes growing on a nearby hill and the flocks of sheep floating over the Meseta.
What Paterniti ultimately discovers there in the highlands of Castile is nothing like the idyllic slow-food fable he first imagined. Instead, he’s sucked into the heart of an unfolding mystery, a blood feud that includes accusations of betrayal and theft, death threats, and a murder plot. As the village begins to spill its long-held secrets, Paterniti finds himself implicated in the very story he is writing.
My Thoughts:

There were two reasons that I wanted to read this book. First, the word cheese is in the title. Cheese always does me in. Second, there’s a cow on the cover. Wait, wait. That’s not a cow? I thought it was a cow at first. So sue me. This Wisconsin girl couldn’t resist a tale that involves cheese and cows. Even if those cows weren’t actually cows. 

I’m glad that I was fooled because this turned out to be a very enjoyable read. For one thing, it was seriously funny. For another, I learned a lot about a way of life that I’ll probably never have the chance to live.

I’ve read a few nonfiction books wherein the author seems to sneak his or her way into the story. Normally, that sucks all the objectivity out of the tale the author is trying to tell. Not to mention that it makes for a clunky read. In this case the author becomes part of the story in an organic way. He falls for the village and the people, eventually moving his family across the world to experience a simpler way of living.

Yes, this is a book about the fantastic storyteller Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras. And yes, it’s about the world’s greatest piece of cheese. It’s also mystery and a memoir. In the end though? This is a story about friendship.*

The author (right) with Ambrosio in Ambrosio’s family cave in Guzmán, Spain

*It is definitely not about cows.

26 thoughts on “The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti

  1. Haha, I've also been wanting to read this book because it involves cheese! A while back, I read a book called The Joy of Cheesemaking and since then I've put together cheese tasting for friends, family, and coworkers. It's always a great time and makes me excited to learn more about cheese 🙂


  2. It's not about cows? Bummer 🙂 Well, it certainly is a confusing blurb for this book, or maybe I am just dense. Trying to wrap my mind around the true purpose of the book- memoir of a reclusive cheese maker? Glad you enjoyed it!


  3. Just finally added this one to my list of books I want to read today (I've been trying to be a bit more judicious lately and not add EVERY book that sounds remotely good!). Sounds like I definitely made a good decision.


  4. This sounds great! I'm hearing about so much good nonfiction these days. This book sounds like a fun mix of history, travel, and mystery. I'll put this on my list.


  5. Sounds FANTASTIC. I'm due for a good food-based memoir type of book. Added it to my look-for-at-the-library list.Also, I love the idea of a \”telling room\”, how charming!


  6. A book about the world's greatest piece of cheese? I like cheese, but I'm gonna zone in on the fact that it's about friendship, because its 10:15 pm and I can't afford to get hungry now 😉 This sounds nice, Jen! I'm glad you enjoyed the read.


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