In the years after WWII, the Bureau of the Dairy Industry (an early division of the USDA) commissioned expert George P. Sanders to scour the planet and document the characteristics and methods of production for a wide variety of cheeses. The purpose wasn't to provide recipes for cheesemakers but rather "so that consumers may be better able to recognize the various kinds by name." The Cheese Varieties and Descriptions handbook is a great overview for cheese lovers everywhere—even more than five decades after it's first publication in 1953.
To be sure, methods of cheese production have not changed much in, well, centuries, which is why this book has aged so well. I first discovered this book while trolling Ebay for cheese-related items, and bought it back then for just a few dollars. But I recently discovered that it is freely available in PDF form on the USDA website. It's definitely worth downloading and printing out as a reference.
Of course it doesn't have any full-color photography like some other great books on cheese, but what can you expect for free? Actually the answer turns out to be quite a lot. The book covers more than 400 cheeses from Abertam ("a hard cheese made from ewe's milk in the region of Carlsbad, Bohemia") to Zomma (a Turkish "plastic-curd, Caciocavallo-type cheese that is very much like Katschkawalj"). The introduction also contains a nice (if superficial) history of cheesemaking, and includes a nod to the American dairy industry, which in 1953 was largely factory-based and mechanized.
So go ahead, download it, print it out, heck even get it bound at Kinko's if you want, and keep this on your shelf right next to your other food references books. It's worth the price.
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