ACS Member Profile: Author Kirstin Jackson

It’s Not You, It’s Brie

Kirstin Jackson fell in love with cheese at a young age. Driving around Northern California and taking tours of creameries with her parents was Kirstin’s entry into the world of cheese. Says Kirstin, “A good way to bond and keep a teenager in the car with you is to give her cheese at the end of the trip.” Fast forward to 2007, when Kirstin decided to stop writing her wine and food pairing blog “because it wasn’t enough of an escape for me from my everyday work life working in a wine shop,” and committed to her passion for cheese online. With that decision, It’s Not You, It’s Brie, was born. Kirstin loved being able to “geek out” on her blog by conducting research and delving deeper into a subject she was already so interested in.

Continuing to focus on her passion for cheese, Kirstin published her first book in November 2012. It’s Not You, It’s Brie: Unwrapping America’s Unique Culture of Cheese takes the reader on a journey to discover 48 American cheesemakers, telling the story of each particular cheese and explaining the make process. The book also includes pairing suggestions and recipes, and it pulls from Kirstin’s experiences as an Anthropology major at UC Berkeley, a professionally-trained chef, a wine bar manager, and a cheese program director.

When formulating her book, Kirstin realized there wasn’t any cheese literature out there that “considered the historical and cultural aspects [of the subject of cheese], while still making it light and approachable to the cheese novice,” she said. With this new book, Kirstin aimed to “strike a good balance so that it’s approachable and has some humor aspects. You get some chemistry, some basics, some humor, and some of the stories. I tried to make it really well-rounded. More than one type of person will be able to enjoy it.”

While conducting research for the book, Kirstin discovered a great deal about American artisan cheese. Many cheesemakers she spoke with “had an idea of what they wanted to make and by the time they were finished, it was something different. It’s a little metaphor on life in a way.” One great example of this is Barely Buzzed by Beehive Cheese Company in Utah, which Kirstin calls a “happy accident”. Kirstin also enjoyed learning about the reasons why cheesemakers made a certain cheese, or why they became a cheesemaker in the first place.

Kirstin’s book is divided into sixteen categories, ranging from “Prepubescent Cheese” to “Leaf Wrapped” to “American Originals and Inspirations”. These categories were defined after she selected the cheese types and styles she thought important to feature in her book.” Some cheeses were selected because Kirstin adores them and they are a great example of a particular cheese type. Other times, a featured cheese was simply what she happened to be tasting and enjoying at the time. She also made sure to look at regions that weren’t as well represented in her local cheese shops.

One of the book’s cheese categories, Mixed Milks, was selected because Kirstin saw that American cheesemakers were starting to experiment with mixed milk cheeses. “It’s a way for people to explore their options and a lot of times pay tribute to what’s around them. Cheesemakers are also navigating the problems of the milk market. I love that people are open to mixing milk and trying different cheeses,” she says.

As the reader becomes immersed in Kirstin’s book, her love of American artisan cheese becomes apparent. And what does Kirstin love most about American cheese? “I love that we can honor any cheesemaking tradition we want,” she says. “In the French Alps, you would have to make French Alpine cheese. In the United States, we can focus on making those types of cheese and having all the history and knowledge, but we can also try it with sheep’s milk or try it with something different. We don’t have limits on how much we experiment.” Kirstin’s book is an ode to this idea in American cheesemaking — experimentation while honoring tradition.

It’s Not You, It’s Brie: Unwrapping America’s Unique Culture of Cheese can be found at most bookstores. You can also check out Kirstin’s blog here.