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.
Equal parts mystery and memoir, travelogue and history, The Telling Room is an astonishing work of literary nonfiction by one of our most accomplished storytellers.
A moving exploration of happiness, friendship, and betrayal, The Telling Room introduces us to Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras, an unforgettable real-life literary hero, while also holding a mirror up to the world, fully alive to the power of stories that define and sustain us.
©2013 Michael Paterniti (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
Say something about yourself!
My husband doesn't understand how I can sit in front of the TV watching people preparing food; I tell him we're even because I don't understand how he can sit and watch two men pummeling each other with their gloved fists. This conversation came about as I watched *Cheese Slices'* Will Studd hiking through a little Spanish hillside in Castile to a remote village called Guzman in pursuit of a rare sheep's milk cheese preserved in olive oil. A cheese made throughout history by one family and prized among turophiles. Fellow Foodies will understand this passion. On a personal note, I am of Castilian/French ancestry, so I felt some connection to this particular cheese hunt and was intrigued -- to which my husband countered, "My grandfather was a boxer." Days later, The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge... appeared on Audible and I realized the "Piece of Cheese" was the same Páramo de Guzman I had seen Will Studd search out and hedonistically enjoy.
That cave was the "Telling Room", a family's bodega or "el contador," once used as a place to age the precious cheese, and to count and record the farmer's harvest. Later, the rooms were used as a gathering place to tell stories and drink copious amounts of the local wine. It is from this Telling Room that Paterniti draws out the tale of a family's cheese and two friends that battle over that cheese, lusted for by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Gorbachev, Reagan, and called by Harrod's of London, "the world's greatest piece of cheese."
Paterniti, who has an MFA in Creative Writing, is a skillful storyteller that writes with intense passion. He claims the research for this book changed his life, which is obvious in his almost loving attention to detail. (Apparently the book contains page after page of footnotes.) His own obsession with the tale of the cheese seemed like an engrossing tale -- until he introduces the reader to Ambrosio. As someone once said, "I thought I liked the chamber music until the orchestra started to play." Ambrosio is a character of Shakespearean dimensions, fueled by his love for his land, gossip and legends, and gallons of wine. His zest for life is exhilarating (even a very funny, but not irreverent, rustic soliloquy on defecating), everything becomes a shadow to his simple radiance. The story takes on a romantic fairy tale-like quality in his presence. "My name is Ambrosio Melinos de las Heras. You stole my cheese; prepare to die!"
The contrasting stories of an American journalist researching an article, and a Spanish farmer bent on revenge are tightly entwined. The book is verbose and became a little cumbersome as Paterniti painstakingly laid out his family's step by step acclimation to Spain and their personal story thread. The author uses whole chapters to tell a few paragraphs of a story, and I found myself rushing ahead to the villages of Spain and Ambrosio's story. A case of an author writing a character so well that he is outshone by his own brilliance. Readers who love the written word will enjoy...Foodies should at least look for an abridged edition. Not truly a food-themed book, hence the love, betrayal and revenge, but still enjoyable, and executed with talent and heart.
[**As for the cheese? Paterniti described the taste to the Chicago Tribune's Bill Daley: "The cheese was carrying so much metaphysical weight, it was such a product of the land. It connected me to the place....It was such a strong cheese. I didn't expect it. I couldn't eat any more of it. It was overpowering. It was such a reflection of who Ambrosio is." (You can experience his verbosity in this answer.)
*I was unable to find the cheese at any deli nearby for a tasting. The World of Imports has this description: "Páramo de Guzman is an innovative raw sheep's "cheese in a can." It is made on the banks of the Duero River in central Spain. Aged for 12 months for a piquant, sheepy flavor and a firm, slightly granular texture, it is them preserved in extra virgin olive oil -- in a can, no less. The yellow-green oil soaks into the pores of the cheese, giving it a bright olive tint and easy eating texture. From this oil come a typical Mediterranean aroma along with a citrus edge in the flavor profile. Currently sells for $22 lb."]
The author bounces back and forth between history lessons and present day stories and then ties them together flawlessly.
No, I haven't; but this one was very good.
Yes, but it would have been too long.
I would say this ranks in the top 5 books I've ever "read." It may even be number one. I found myself very emotionally involved. The writing was brilliant and the reader was very talented.
Not quite at the level of Simon Winchester but similarly I liked that the story blended recent events with historical facts and interesting asides. I would recommend this book to a friend in print form.
Include a wedge of Paramo de Guzman cheese!
The narrator has no clue how to pronounce Spanish. Even simple words like "bella" (pronounced beya (correctly) , not bela (as pronounced by the narrator) ) are mispronounced. This might not be a significant issue for someone that does not speak Spanish but if you do or even have a basic understanding, you will be very disappointed and increasingly aggravated as the story progresses.
I fail to understand why a bilingual narrator was not chosen (there must be many) or at the very least why the present narrator was not coached.
The narration severely detracted from the story.
a book that is about how a food can move you. very enjoyable
you want to listen to the book all the way in one sitting if you have time
narrator dreadful - like the worst kind of sportscaster. Very clear he read this book through for the first time when it was recorded.
overheated incoherent writing packed with cliches - author completely self-involved. Less blabbing about awful author and his boring personal journey as a writer, and more about cheesemaker.
weird parsing choices, blaring and boring delivery, wanted to slap him.
I would have given the story idea to a different author.
I love foodie stories. I hated this author and this book. My personal nightmare would be sitting next to this self-obsessed hack of a writer at a dinner party.
Probably not, but just because I don't really do that
I felt like I really got a great feel for the characters and the town
First time I've found the reader to detract. Too much artifice/contrived in words chosen.
Humor, learned a lot about Spain, history of Spain and world incorporated in to story,
Too long - not enough pace in story. Too much digression and redundant.
I only made it halfway. The story is moderately engrossing. The author's descriptions and characters paint a vivid picture, and I find myself wanting to know what happens next, but i can't bring myself to listen any more. The narrator's overconfident, Italianate, mispronunciation of every Spanish word in the book, and there are a lot of them, is completely ruining it for me. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh. I want my credit back!
No. There is no story
It just went on and on. Couldn't wait for it to be over
A story without the overuse of cliche and giant words that were more about the author's ego than the story. I didn't finish it.
He sounded like a 1950s used car salesman trying too hard.
Not scenes, the story seemed intriguing, I just could handle the overwriting and over-narrating.
"A turophillic dream"
Yes, because if you are interested in, or have a passion for cheese, this is for you.
It shares my obsession with chasing down a specific cheese, that may or not exist.
No, so nothing to compare it with.
It confirmed for me that there is more to cheese than curdled milk, that flavours can rest in your could and become an obsession.
If you are a cheese maker, this is definately for you - in fact probably all artisan food producers should give it a go.
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