Paxson's new book, available from UCPress.
Paxson’s new book, available from UCPress.

American cheeses—not just the individually-wrapped slices—are making a comeback, as documented by MIT’s Heather Paxson, who recently published The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America. The anthropological work details her research into the people and processes behind artisan cheeses in the U.S. Looking over the last 50 years, Paxson indentifies a host of factors behind the re-emergence of American artisanal cheese: environmentalism, feminism, markets (both local and international), and 9/11, among others. In an interview with the Boston Globe, she commented:

Like most social movements, it only looks like a movement in retrospect… Cheesemaking appealed to people the way that some start-up dot-coms did. It was the rural counterpart to that.

Paxson, who studies “how people craft a sense of themselves as moral beings through everyday practices, especially those activities having to do with family and food,” became curious about artisanal cheese after eating a sample of Hooligan, a Connecticut cheese, and asking the questions that are the genesis of so much social science research: Who? How? Why?