Can't tell a Cheddar from a ch`evre? Here's a cookbook that can help

Ask for a taste. If you can't spot the Caerphilly or the buffalo mozzarella in the cheese shop, don't be timid. Most cheese sellers are happy to share their knowledge, opinions, and preferences. James McNair, food writer and caterer, says you're not alone if you find it difficult to keep up with all the new cheeses that appear in the markets today.

``At times it seems as if a new status cheese appears every few weeks, as importers find new ways of shipping the delicate cheeses from out-of-the-way European villages,'' he says in his new book, ``Cheese'' (Ortho Books, $9.95).

Full of things to do with cheese -- such as how to serve it attractively and how to prepare it -- this handsome soft-cover book also has appealing color photographs by Patricia Brabant. Incidentally, tableware used in the photographs covers three decades of plates, platters, and bowls with colorful glazes that are especially attractive.

Mr. McNair suggests that when shopping for cheese, you only bring home those you have plans for, instead of many slivers of different varieties. He includes recipes with new ideas such as a ch`evre, eggplant, and red pepper tart; grilled cheese-stuffed chilies with avocado sauce; Gruy`ere-stuffed beef fillet; and poached pears in Mascarpone in caramel sauce.

McNair also has some new twists on old favorites -- such as blue cheese blintzes, pizza with four cheeses, and cappucino cheesecake.

He explains and describes the nutty Emmentaler and Jarlsberg, oozing Bries and Camemberts, herbal and peppery Boursin, real Cheddar from Vermont or England, and the tan, caramel-like goat's milk cheese called Gjetost. McNair dedicates the book to his mother, Lucille McNair ``with thanks for those pimiento-cheese sandwiches.''

Phyllis Hanes is the Monitor's food editor.

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