The cover of the April issue of Saveur does little to rid me of the uninformed notion that all cooking magazines are waaaaay too precious for their own good. It proclaims "CHEESE in the kitchen" as if an order and punctuates it with a photo of what appears to be sludgy leftover pasta. Similarly, the cover come-on "Learning from BISCUITS" evokes the patently silly image of a scone wearing a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, lecturing a class of hungover freshmen.
Imagine my surprise, then, that April's Saveur proves to be a nuanced, intelligent survey of all things gustatory. Elegant in tone and design (well, except for the aforementioned pasta pile), the magazine would seem to appeal to gourmand and glutton alike.
As the cover might suggest, the April issue of the publication celebrates American cheese in all its dairy-licious splendor. Though the concept seems a bit lowbrow - and the very idea of "American cheese" practically begs for an Anna Nicole Smith gibe - the mag spins it off into a six-pronged feature replete with lists, profiles, and how-tos. I especially enjoyed the roll call of Saveur's "50 Favorite American Cheeses," though it's hard for me to be passionate about the selection criteria without knowing which specific variation is congealing atop my nachos.
Better still is the profile of innovation-minded cheesemaker Laura Chenel, which works as both a lifestyle piece and a culinary primer. And though the writing is clunky at times ("The milk in the vat looks like a small, calm lake, reflecting in the morning light"), a story about cheese "artisan" Soyoung Scanlan does an exceedingly artful job of conveying its subject's passion for her work.
The smaller items span the entire spectrum of gourmet-related pursuits. In "Fare," a visit to one of the few kosher-style Jewish restaurants in Munich slides in easily beside cookbook reviews and a Q&A with the owner of President Clinton's fave BBQ joint (for what it's worth, nobody asked the guy if he feels partially responsible for the Prez's bum ticker).
An examination of wines from Germany's Pfalz region is weighed down by a dull, PBS-ish tone, but a quirky look at Wisconsin cheese curds - they squeak when you eat 'em, not unlike months-old candy corn - redeems its predecessor's humorlessness. And for all you non-turophiles out there, the mag reveals that cream cheese is technically not cheese. Just so you know.
While you'd think that the subject matter would limit Saveur from a graphic perspective, any number of consumer mags could learn a few things from its creative, quirky design. The publication skips freely between font sizes and colors, throwing in the occasional cartoon or "Food For Thought" callout box for variety.
Too, its photographers eschew the typical well-lit drool shots of dishes and ingredients, shooting instead for understated sophistication. Nothing in here provokes the Pavlovian response of a McDonald's Griddle McCoronary ad - but then, Saveur doesn't regard eating as a mere diversion between toll stops on the Garden State Parkway.
As for that clumsy "Learning from BISCUITS" cover line, it turns out that the essay it teases, "The Tao of Biscuits," is incredibly clever and smart. In it, Kelly Alexander details her inability to bake a biscuit. So even if you can't play along with the mag's surfeit of recipes, Saveur has the consideration to let you know that you're not alone. For an enthusiast pub, that's an incredibly welcome attitude, and one befitting a magazine that's clearly confident in its mission.