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.”… 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.
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.
“Few writers can write about the taste of food with Paterniti’s vibrancy and precision. . . . [He] is a master of finding and telling great stories (the finding, for most writers, often being as difficult as the telling) that appear to be about something small, such as cheese, but are actually about something far larger—in this case, the whole of human existence. . . . As much as The Telling Room is about a Spaniard’s quest to create a cheese that embodies all the love and pain and joy he’s ever known, it’s also the story of a writer’s quest to channel that obsession into the perfect story.”
“For my money, Paterniti is one of the most expansive and joyful writers around—big-hearted and humane and funny. This book is a wild and amazing ride.”
—George Saunders, author of Tenth of December
“Elegant, strange, funny, and insightful, The Telling Room is a marvelous tale and a joyful read, a trip into a world peopled by some of the most remarkable characters—and, yes, cheese—in memory.”
—Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief
“The list of writers I would read even if they were to write about a piece of cheese has always been short, but it includes Michael Paterniti. He has proved here that if you love something enough and pay a passionate enough attention to it, the whole world can become present in it. That’s true of both the cheese and the book.”
—John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead
“An amazing achievement, The Telling Room is an inspired, masterly epic that expands and refigures the parameters of the storyteller’s art.”
—Wells Tower, author of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
“A gorgeous and impassioned monument to the art and mystery of storytelling, The Telling Room is rich, funny, humane, devastating, and beautiful. It made me want to applaud, it made me want to cry, it made me want to move to Spain. Michael Paterniti is a genius.”
—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
“Michael Paterniti is one of the best living practitioners of the art of literary journalism, able to fully elucidate and humanize the everyday and the epic. In his hands, every subject, every moment of personal or global upheaval, is treated with the same curiosity, respect, empathy, and clear-eyed wisdom.”
—Dave Eggers, author of A Hologram for the King
“Much as Molinos regales Paterniti with his rich voice, Paterniti entertains us by retelling this saga of a man who successfully recovers his family’s cheese recipe, whose childhood friend betrays him by stealing the business, and who half-heartedly seeks revenge for the betrayal. . . . Paterniti’s zestful storytelling carries us along on a delightful journey through a village rich with the traditions of food and family.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A beguiling, multifaceted narrative larded with delightful culinary, historical, political, psychological and literary layers . . . Paterniti gracefully unravels how tradition, culture and sense of place affect the human heart, while simultaneously wrestling with the joys and boundaries of storytelling and journalism. . . . Enriched by Paterniti’s singular art of storytelling, this is a deeply satisfying voyage across a remarkable landscape into the mysteries and joys of the human heart.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)