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Originally published Sunday, August 11, 2013 at 5:16 AM

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‘The Telling Room’: one pretty darned special cheese

In “The Telling Room,” author Michael Paterniti tells the story of a very special kind of cheese, and the friendship that was fractured because of it.

Special to The Seattle Times

Michael Paterniti

The author of “The Telling Room” will appear at 3 p.m. Aug. 25 at the Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island (206-842-5332 or eagleharborbooks.com).

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‘The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese’

by Michael Paterniti

Dial Press, 349 pp., $27

In 1991, writer Michael Paterniti encountered a cheese that his boss at Zingerman’s deli in Ann Arbor, Mich., described as sublime, rich, dense and intense. The cheese came from Spain, had been aged in a cave and submerged in olive oil for at least a year. Known as Páramo de Guzman, it became world famous, eaten by Fidel Castro, Ronald Reagan and Spain’s king, Juan Carlos.

Paterniti visited that cave nine years later and discovered Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras, a man as intense and complex as the cheese he made. Ambrosio told Paterniti the story of how he came to make it and his ruined relationship with his best friend, the man who had betrayed Ambrosio and his cheese.

Paterniti reveals all of this in the first couple chapters of “The Telling Room.” But then he continues on for another 200 pages with digressions, footnotes, accounts of the author’s challenges in writing the book, footnotes within footnotes and some over-the-top writing: “I now understood, if vaguely, how the cheese must have created a conduit to the past, for its concentration was a force, an energy, a momentum, the psychic drill bit boring a wormhole in this Castilian space-time continuum.”

Paterniti is a good storyteller, and when he writes the basic story of Ambrosio, the writing is passionate and evocative. But eventually the asides made me lose interest in the cheese and the author. Perhaps he should have listened to his wife when he said, “This book is much bigger than a piece of cheese,” and to which she replied, “No ... it’s the same exact size.”

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