In this delightful, full-color tour of France, England, and Italy, YouTube star Katie Quinn shares the stories and science behind everyone’s fermented favorites—cheese, wine, and bread—along with classic recipes.
Delicious staples of a great meal, bread, cheese, and wine develop their complex flavors through a process known as fermentation. Katie Quinn spent months as an apprentice with some of Europe’s most acclaimed experts to study the art and science of fermentation. Visiting grain fields, vineyards, and dairies, Katie brings the stories and science of these foods to the table, explains the process of each craft, and introduces the people behind them.
What will keep readers glued to the book like a suspense novel is Katie’s personal journey as an expat discovering herself abroad; Katie’s vulnerability will turn readers into fans, and they’ll finish the book feeling like they’re her best friends, trusted with her innermost revelations.
In England, Katie becomes a cheesemonger at Neal’s Yard Dairy, London’s preeminent cheese shop—the beginning of a journey that takes her from a goat farm in rural Somerset to a nationwide search for innovating dairy gurus.
In Italy, Katie offers an inside look at Italian winemaking with the Comellis at their family-owned vineyard in Northeast Italy and witnesses the diversity of vintners as she makes her way around Italy.
In France, Katie meets the reigning queen of bread, Apollonia Poilâne of Paris’ famed Poilâne Bakery, apprentices at boulangeries in Paris learning the ins and outs of sourdough, and travels the country to uncover the present and future of French bread.
Part artisanal survey, part travelogue, and part cookbook, featuring watercolor illustrations and gorgeous photographs, Cheese, Wine, and Bread is an outstanding gastronomic tour for foodies, cooks, artisans, and armchair travelers alike.
An unexpected transition period allowed journalist and Youtuber Katie Quinn the opportunity of exploring her love of the table. Specifically the things that, for her, were important. Things that make the meals or gatherings special. So naturally she wound up writing a book about fermentation.
In a conversation that was full of laughs Katie Quinn talked to us about accidentally writing a wonderfully illustrated book on fermentation and winding up with Italian citizenship.
BAF: Well, I got to say this is a terrific book. This is a fun book.
Katie Quinn: Thank you.
BAF: When somebody says to you “I’m writing a book on fermentation” you think, okay, what bet did you lose? This is a fun hands-on first-person experience, when the idea came to you, what was your initial thought process?
Katie Quinn: Yeah, so fermentation was not the impetus per se, but it was a spark of when I realized these three things, cheese, wine, and bread, I love so much. I consider them so essential to life and I get so much joy from them. And the fact that they’ve been around for so long, I just felt like they were, you know, the history of these things is incredible. It was really when I realized that the umbrella to hold them all together was fermentation, aside from just the fact that the three things go well together on a dinner plate. The fact that they’re all fermented was kind of the spark that made me realize, oh, I think there’s something here. I think there’s something to this because, just to your point, like fermentation, a lot of people have something very specific that comes to mind when they think fermentation. For me, that was like kimchi and kombucha, right, sauerkraut. And then, of course, I guess if I thought about it further, I’d be like, oh, yeah, wine, beer, those things are also fermented. But I never considered these daily items, cheese, and bread to be put in that basket as well. So that’s when I thought, okay, I think there’s something really interesting here. This could be a fun way to explore.
BAF: It almost started as a love story to some of your loves.
Katie Quinn: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I think that’s the only way to write a book, right? Especially a book like the one I wrote, there’s a lot of pages there. Something is motivating me beyond academic interest, which, of course, there is that too.
I spent countless hours in the British library with my nose in books about the science of these foods, but also about the history of these foods. Also, about how cultures use these foods to eat. And so, there was the academic side of it. But then there was also the exploratory side of it. The packing my bags and traveling. I think that that is, for me, where a lot of the passion came from.
BAF: Well, was a little daunting when you realized,’ wait a minute, I’m writing a book about fermentation. How did this happen?’
Katie Quinn: Daunting is a less intense way of saying what I felt at times. I felt completely in over my head at times and just kind of like, who am I to write three of the greatest items on this planet for most food-loving folks?
I believe that coming at them from a place of curiosity, of… Listen, I’m not an expert. I am a journalist at heart, well, a trained journalist, but everything about me comes from a place of curiosity and wanting to discover the answers for things and kind of get to the bottom of it. But coming from a place of, listen, I know I don’t know everything, so let me find the people who do. Let me talk to them and let me get my hands dirty. As for the book, I wanted more than anything else to put myself out of my comfort zone and to just throw myself in situations where I had no idea what I was doing because I do believe that that’s the best way to learn. And so, that’s what I did. That’s why I moved to a farmhouse in rural Somerset to make goat cheese at a goat farm. That’s why I travel all around Italy for a month and did the harvest a vineyard in Northern Italy. That’s why I completely, made a fool of myself so many times baking in bakeries, right? Like side by side with these incredible bakers and boulangeries all around Paris and France is because I was like, I need to learn and this is the best way.
I’m so sorry, I’m kind of rambling but this is all to say, I think that by the end of the book, I could call myself an expert in these things. And so, it’s that journey from novice to expert that I take the reader along with, and I hope that’s what makes it accessible and interesting as well.
BAF: I think people forget that fermentation does play an important part in everyday foods, everything that we eat every day.
Katie Quinn: Absolutely, and the positive elements of that, right? Fermentation, like, quickly, science-y, the process of fermentation predigests food for us, right? The bacteria are working in there doing their thing actually make the foods easier for your body to digest and that’s why so many people can eat sourdough bread no problem, but other kinds of bread, they find that they have an intolerance to. That’s just one example. There are other foods such as cassava that fermentation makes them edible. So yeah, fermentation is a really wonderful thing.
BAF: What kind of cooperation did you get from people because people saying, ‘hey, here’s this American woman coming in to see how we make cheese or see our secrets to bread and whatnot?’ Sometimes people can be quite guarded about their craft.
Katie Quinn: Absolutely, and understandably so in a lot of cases. I was, for the most part, greeted with open arms, I have to say. And I think that that is because of how I was connected to people and approached people. So I did a cold email and cold call some people.
The people who I had the best experiences with, who were most open to me and, like, through their doors and arms open to me, were the people who I was connected with through someone who knew me and trusted me and I had worked with in some capacity and that they would say, oh, I know this bread baker, or I know this cheesemaker, let me introduce you. So, for instance, the way that I started making this goat’s milk cheese in Somerset in England, was because I had cheesemongered at Neal’s Yard Dairy for three years straight as a seasonal shift over the Christmas holiday when cheese was such a thing in England. But that was after three years of doing that seasonal shift and getting to know the team at that cheese shop so well. And one of them knew the person who runs this goat farm in Somerset and connected me.
So I wasn’t just a random American wanting to like, hi, let me play with your goats. I had some cred at that point and so it was that thing over and over again where it’s like, okay, I am not random to you. You trust me, person X, and then person X, you know person Y, and in some cases, person Y knows person Z, and so that would be how I would be connected to people and it all worked out in a way that I never could have planned for or guessed or outlined in the initial book proposal. There were just surprises left and right.
BAF: You could have done this entire book in France or even Italy. How did you divide these up?
Katie Quinn: It’s an excellent question.
I knew that people would have that similar kind of question, which is why I think at the top of the book, I felt like I had to kind of clarify. This was, very specific to my circumstances at the time. There is so much randomness that was part of that.
I was living in London at the time that I had the idea for this book and started kind of getting the experiences to write the book proposal to hopefully write the book. And that’s when I started cheese mongering at Neal’s Yard Dairy. That’s because I lived in London, the best cheese shop in the whole darn city is Neal’s Yard Dairy, let me see if I can get my feet in there, and that’s how it started there because I was just happened to be in England. And then, I mean, kind of the same with Italy and France too. I knew that those would be the other places, the other elements and I happen, again through a friend of a friend, I know a family who has a small vineyard in Northern Italy. I asked if I could experience the wine harvest with them and they said, “Sure!” I was like, “Awesome!” So I guess I’m going to explore wine in Italy. Perfect! So it was kind of like throwing the dice and that’s just how it landed.
Man, I’m just so grateful it all worked out. It’s taking the risks left and right.
BAF: Curious, I mean you lived in New York for a while. It’s not a place to go to ‘ferment’. Go-go-go people want one thing. It’s just the way, just the spirit of the city, which I love. It seems to be when you think about Manhatten and you think of fermentation and Italy, those two aren’t on the same plate.
Katie Quinn: Yeah, you’re so right. I love that you bring up this aspect and for me, this is such an important… This is the pillar of the book for me. And that I come back to time and again, in all of the chapters and that is the idea of fermentation, which is a process of transformation that takes time, right?
Time is the ingredient in fermentation that is not discussed enough. And for me, just as you said, I lived in New York for ten years. This is a go-go-go kind of place and for personalities that they get energy from the go-go-go, it kind of expedites that part of a personality and I certainly felt it did that for me and that’s so exciting. But the element of life that was missing, what’s the element of, you know, stopping and smelling flowers, to use the cliché? And that is what fermentation taught me. That is what researching for and writing this book taught me about life. This like random aspect of life that completely flew over my head when I was in my 20s living and working in New York City. Now, I’m in my 30s living in Italy and la vita lenta, the slow way of life is so rich.
I think that fermentation really can be a conduit to understanding that, even if you’re living in New York City. I do think that fermentation is a reminder that we all need. We need that fermentation time. And sometimes fermentation is stinky and weird and bubbly, and that’s okay. Life has those phases. I don’t know. I think we have a lot to learn from fermentation when you look at it kind of metaphorically in that way.
BAF: You went from New York to London.
Katie Quinn: Yes. Yes, yes. So I was engaged at the time in New York when my fiancé had the job opportunity to go to London and I was like, “You know what? Sure, why not.” Like I’ve been in the city for a decade now. It’s been awesome, but let’s explore. And I’m so grateful that at the time, my full-time job was being a YouTuber and I still am that, but now other things, the juggling continues, and I’m so thrilled to have “author” at the top of that list now. But I’m still making videos, that’s where I come from professionally and I love it. And now I’m just doing videos about living in Italy and the food scene here. But at the time of moving to London, yeah, it was like, “As long as I have my camera and an internet connection, cool, like awesome! Babe, I’m excited you got this job opportunity. I’m happy to go with you. Let’s go.”
That’s also part of why I had the idea to write the book, though, is because things did not go as planned. That tradition was… not tradition, the transition was much more challenging than I thought it could be. Going back to the New Yorker thing and the New Yorker mentality, I think I thought because I was a New Yorker, I could handle anything and like, this is the hardest city to live in, and objectively speaking, London is an easier city to live in, but it was a really hard transition. No friends there, just about to walk down the aisle with this man, I was like, paddling little cold feet going on. I didn’t know what was going on with my career. I stopped getting as many brand deals and partnerships that I got in the States with my YouTube channel to make that a viable living, which it was in New York. I mean, all those things kind of dried up after I moved abroad. I was like, “Oh my God, what am I doing with my life?”
It was its way and existential crisis, which the book was entirely born from because I found almost on a cellular level I was drawn to these items, to cheese, wine, and bread, and it was all I needed on my dinner at the end of the day. And that’s also why I had the time to think I want to look into these things. I’m so curious about why they are such a central human food and slush drink.
BAF: I was surprised to hear that your endorsements have dried up simply because you’re sort of doing it neutrally, you could be anywhere where you’re doing YouTube and whatnot.
Katie Quinn: Yeah, absolutely. I think that, well, first of all, to be clear, it didn’t completely dry up. I still had some projects and those projects were very serendipitous. Two of them that come top of mind, one was a project that took me to Oregon and Rogue River Creamery and seeing how they make their incredible pieces there including Rogue River blue, which is an award-winning blue cheese. And I was like, “Okay, this is cool. I’m into this. I’m really enjoying this,” and then I got a project with the Comte Cheese Association and that took me to France, to the Jura region of France right near the Switzerland border for a very immersive week of shooting video with not just the cheesemakers, but the farmers who have the cows that make the milk, provide the milk that goes into making these wheels of Comte cheese with the affiniers who mature the wheels of Comte with the cheesemongers who sell it. I mean it was like an all-encompassing, just soup-to-nuts experience with this cheese. And at the end of that project, I got back to London I realized I had a pretty clean slate. I didn’t have many other projects at that time and that I was completely obsessed with everything I had just learned. I was amazed because, before that, I didn’t know how milk became cheese, which is a little mind-blowing to me. Because I would have considered myself a cheese lover, right? If someone would be like, “Do you like cheese?” I’d be like, “Oh, I love cheese!” without understanding what that meant, without actually knowing what cheese is, right? I would proclaim to love cheese and that was, again, another major element that made me really want to explore more. And instead of just dipping my toe in as I often do with the video projects that I produce, I wanted to just dive in. I wanted to dive into this world. That was a big inspiration for the book.
BAF: These are the three of the most ancient foods that we eat today. I think that certainly says something about the project and the subject matter.
Katie Quinn: Yeah, I mean I think that there is always something that, as humans, we are going to love about novelty and that’s exciting and awesome, but there is such a rich area to explore something that has so much history. And looking at the evolution of the product, how has it changed, how has it come back around to how it always has been, there’s just so much. There are so many nuances, and it’s almost impossible to touch on all of them. So I really did my best to bring to the forefront the elements that I thought should absolutely not be missed for anyone who loves these items.
BAF: So you wound up on London so how did you wind up in Italy?
Katie Quinn: Yeah, I don’t mind you asking you all. It was kind of our COVID pivot. So my husband’s job, the reason we were in London and the reason we had visas to be in London, his company shut down. It’s like, you know, COVID casualty. And without visas to stay in England, we’re like, well, we could go back to the States or I learned from researching for the book that I am eligible for Italian dual citizenship. And, while I was researching for the book, I found my great grandfather’s birth certificate, which made that a reality. So, we were like, “Well, we could go back to States, or do you want to move to Italy for a bit?” At least for a bit and see if we can do the citizenship thing. So that’s what brought us here and now, we’ve been here for over six months and I’m a dual citizen, which is just wild.
BAF: This could be a loaded question here, but were there any big “aha” moments? It sounds like you made a big one, old big “aha” moment in creating this book. But was there anything that you could think of that just jumped out at you?
Katie Quinn: I think that the biggest takeaway for me, I think that I’ve kind of goes back to what we already talked about and I’ll say the phrase that I would consistently use, which is “let it ferment.” “Let it ferment.” Just let it ferment about life, in general, to let it ferment.
BAF: So instead of an “aha” moment you sort of came away with sort of “aha” philosophy, it sounds like.
Katie Quinn: Yeah! Oh my God, I love that. What a beautiful way of putting it. That’s exactly true.
I still have to remind but there are some days where like I’ll be worked up about something and Connor, my partner, will be like, “Katie, Kate, what did you learn from writing this book? For three and a half years, you were working on this project. What did you learn?” I’m like, “Oh yeah, okay, let it ferment. Okay, you’re right, thank you. I don’t have to get this email response within the next thirty minutes or the world will fall apart,” or whatever, just like the little stuff. It’s always a good reminder. Yeah, so that philosophy. I love that.
BAF: Can I ask about the illustrations of a book? You got some beautiful pictures in there.
Katie Quinn: Yes, yes. So I worked with an incredible illustrator whose name is Jessie Kanelos Weiner. I love her work. It’s watercolor. It’s very colorful. It’s just really fun and I knew I wanted to work with her from the beginning to create this kind of book that I wanted to create. And I also knew that I wanted it to be very visual and for the readers to really feel like there were coming along with me on these trips and traveling around England, Italy, and France with me, and therefore, I knew there also had to be a strong photo element.
The majority of the photos in the book are mine that I took simply because I couldn’t hire a professional photographer to come along with me on this entire trip. However, I am in quite a few of the photos and obviously, I did not take those. I also hired some just exceptional photographers in England, Italy, and France that I feel so lucky to have worked with, Joanne Pai in Paris, Roberto Pastrovicchio in Italy, Connor, my husband, he came out to the goat farm and took pictures of me making the goat’s milk cheese there. So yeah, I worked with some really, really incredible people to bring this book to life.
BAF: On a side note, you read the audiobook for this.
Katie Quinn: I did! Yes, which was so much fun and such a weird and wonderful experience.
BAF: That wasn’t too daunting, just to sit down and read your own words back for a couple of days?
Katie Quinn: I mean I feel like it was slightly daunting going into it, but that’s just like, I love stuff like that. Like, I have my podcast. I also co-host a podcast for the Food52 Podcast Network. I’m not daunted by microphones and talking into them. I was daunted by, yeah, just like you were saying like the length of the book and the hours of reading, and like, do I have the stamina for this? I’m just not sure, I’ve never done this before and, obviously, I wanted to give the book the best audio reading possible. I’m thrilled to say that it was just a fantastic experience and I had so much fun doing it. And the publishing industry, it’s such a slow process, right? Like it’s the opposite of the YouTube world that I also exist in, which is like, I shoot a video, I edit it, it’s out all within a span of sometimes just a few days and then immediately replying to comments, and it all just happens so fast. The book writing process, I mean, takes years, years, and years and then by the time the book is finally published, it’s like, “Oh wait, I wrote that? Oh, yeah, that’s right. Oh, yeah, that’s cool. I wrote that.” So in a way, it was nice. It was nice to relive some of those moments.
BAF:: It reminds you, like, “I did what?”
Katie Quinn: Yeah, exactly! Totally! I was like, “Oh, that’s cool! That’s awesome I did that. Like, “Go, Katie!”
BAF: So what’s next for you?
Katie Quinn: What is next for me? Honestly, I was talking to a friend the other day and I was like because she’s asking me, “What’s going to be your next book?” And I was like, definitely, there will be the next book and I have some ideas of what that might be, but I am, what’s the philosophy? Letting it ferment. And not, very, very consciously, not rushing into anything. Right now, I’m throwing myself a hundred and ten percent into getting this book out there because the reality is if you’re not Martha Stewart or David Chang, it’s hard to get a book, especially a book about food seen and noticed. And you highlight these kinds of books and thank you for what you do because the reality of the industry kind of it’s very celebrity-focused, which of course I’m not saying anything negative about that. I’m just saying that for me, little Katie Quinn, who wrote this book that I believe in, and I think people will enjoy it and learn something from it and maybe even be inspired by it when they get it in their hands. I am all about doing everything I can do just to make sure that the people know that book exists. So that’s what I’m all about right now.
BAF: Well, I think you’ve done a great job making fermentation fun for the masses.
Katie Quinn: Thank you! That’s a huge compliment, thank you.
12 Coming-Soon Cookbooks We Can’t Wait to Read “Katie is essentially living my dream with this book. She spent months as an apprentice with some of Europe’s most acclaimed experts to study the art and science of fermentation. This book includes travel stories, historical tidbits, and recipes for classics in the world of wine, bread and cheese.” -Marissa Mullen, Food52.com
The 11 Most Anticipated Cookbooks in 2021 “Do…I really need to explain why you’re going to want this cookbook? It takes a look at how each of these European staples are made, from harvest to fermentation.” -Delish.com
“Who wouldn’t agree that the magical trio of cheese, wine, and bread elevates the art of food and of life? . . . Quinn’s ability to transport readers into new adventures matches the best of travel writing. No wonder that this could be a post-COVID prompt to explore the staffs of life.” –Booklist (starred review)
“Get ready to join my friend Katie on a wild trip through Europe as she dives headfirst into the world of fermentation. With her characteristic enthusiasm and wit, she introduces us to some of mankind’s oldest and smallest allies—the microbial partners we rely on to transform milk into cheese, grapes into wine, and grain into bread.” -J. Kenji López-Alt, author of The Food Lab
“Katie Quinn takes the reader on a delicious journey in this meditation on cheese, wine, and bread, the fermented foods that are among the cornerstones of human culture. An erudite and enthusiastic look at the science, the creators, the issues, and the flavors that inform these daily staples.” -Fuchsia Dunlop, author of The Food of Sichuan
“Katie’s honest curiosity about food and the many ways it intersects with a culture’s identity is infectious. She is a dynamic and compelling storyteller who will surely inspire readers to go on their own culinary adventures. This is a fantastic new addition for food-driven travelers!” -Lindsey Tramuta, author of The New Parisienne
“Katie’s writing is unique and immediately inviting, blending memoir with travel documentary with food-science study to illuminate the people and processes behind some of our favorite foods. Cheese, Wine, and Bread should be on any reading list for people who love food and travel, or who just want to know what makes the best mac and cheese tick.” -Kristen Miglore, author of Genius Recipes
“An engaging odyssey through some of our favorite fermented items, written with infectious enthusiasm by Katie Quinn. Open-hearted and buoyant, the book weaves together her hands-on experiences in Europe and introduces us to a rich cast of people who make, sell and care about these traditions. A book about the transformative wonders of fermentation.” -Jenny Linford, author of The Missing Ingredient
“Quinn shares everything she learned [in Europe about cheese, wine, and bread]. . . along with plenty of recipes to help you live vicariously through her adventures. . . . This book will leave you wondering why you’ve never run off to Europe to fulfill your culinary dreams, if you weren’t wondering that already.”