This one is exactly what it says on the tin: a history of the British Isles which follows the lot of cheese, cheesemakers, affineurs and cheesemongers. It touches on a surprising amount of history, getting further into things that you might expect. Armies march on their stomachs, which are partly full of cheese, for a start.
It isn’t, of course, just pure history: there’s also a lot of speculation, from what ancient cheeses might have tasted like to who might have made them and why, and I wouldn’t exactly cite it as a source for something because it’s chatty and speculative, using experience to pry into parts of history we just can’t see. For example, he mentions at one point that the monks in a monastery can’t have been the ones to make the cheese, because they couldn’t leave the grounds and the herds would have been elsewhere… and you need to start the process right away. He speculates that they probably acted as affineurs, aging and storing the cheeses once made.
I don’t always love history when it’s speculative, but Palmer’s expertise about cheese is obvious — and he gets onto more solid ground with sources to refer to as well, with the later parts of the book. I love eating cheese, but it’s obvious I need to try more different kinds of cheese… and I had no idea of most of the details of how cheese is made, how different cheeses are ripened and different effects are produced. Palmer’s enthusiasm makes all of that interesting, and his book is riveting.