BY AMBER K. STOTT

Local food blogger Garrett McCord's first cheese experience was very American.

"It was orange block cheddar from the grocery store," he says. "In fact, I have one in my fridge right now."

While McCord (a frequent contributor to Edible Sacramento) may still crave comfort foods from his childhood, his taste for cheese has expanded like the band of blue stretching across a chunk of Humbolt Fog.

October marks the release of McCord's first cookbook with co-author Stephanie Stiavetti. Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese is filled with reinterpreted recipes from the American classic. Yet, instead of orange block cheddar, these dishes rely on artisan cheeses like French goat cheese and smoked blue.

"Five years ago, I wouldn't have guessed I would be writing a cookbook, and I wouldn't have guessed it would be mac and cheese," says McCord, whose popular food blog, Vanilla Garlic, is filled with pastries, jams, Asian dishes and cocktail recipes in addition to cheesy creations.

In fact, writing about noodles and cheese started as a joke between McCord and Stiavetti. McCord knew he wanted to write his first book with a co-author, and as long-time friends with complementary talents, he and Stiavetti were a natural fit. Both wanted to write a single subject cookbook.

But: macaroni and cheese?

"It wasn't long before we realized this was a legit idea. Who doesn't love mac and cheese? We followed what we thought would be fun," says McCord.

Already, the idea seems to be paying off. Positive reviews of the book are streaming in from New York Times best-selling author Ree Drummond, Dorie Greenspan, David Lebovitz and other heavy hitters of the food writing world. They're calling the book "a feat of magic" and "deeply researched," saying the authors have "redefined the genre."

Melt's success is also steaming up the local scene. McCord has been invited to demo the book's recipes on TV and is earning glowing feedback from local press.

To those who know him, McCord's success doesn't come as a surprise. The dedicated 30-year-old food writer started blogging at Vanilla Garlic in 2006. He's a regular contributor to Simply Recipes, the largest food blog in the world. He did a stage in one of Sacramento's best pastry kitchens, Grange Restaurant and Bar, under pastry chef Elaine Baker. He also holds a Master's degree in English Composition. Hunkering down to create a cookbook for this guy? No problem.

Co-author Stiavetti is no slouch, either. Based in San Francisco, Stiavetti's food blog The Culinary Life has a Facebook following of nearly 7,000 fans. She works at Pandora Internet Radio as a tech whiz. Her freelance writing has appeared on KQED, NP and the Huffington Post, to name a few.

Stepping into cookbook writing became a comfortable three-year labor of love for the two authors. McCord and Stiavetti enrolled in cheese classes, visited dairy farms and immersed themselves in the topic.

"We wanted to speak with authority," says McCord.

In fact, educating himself on the subject of cheese was McCord's favorite part of writing the book, and has earned him bragging rights as a cheese expert. He can tell you where to buy the hardest-to-find cheeses (Taylor's Market), the cheese with the best value (Bucherondin, a French aged-goat cheese that sells for a mere $5) and the best temperature to cut cheese for cooking (straight from the fridge while it's still cold).

Another tip the author swears by: "Take your cheese out of the plastic when you get it home. Put it in a Tupperware so it can breathe. In plastic, the bacteria die, which leads to quicker spoilage," McCord says.

He also says that the blue from blue cheese will "jump onto other cheese," so they should be stored separately.

Over the course of three years, McCord and Stiavetti have created original recipes, managed a team of recipe testers across the country, fed their friends creamy experimental dishes and managed to land their book on the shelves of a major national big box chain – all while holding down day jobs, and in McCord's case, planning a wedding.

"It's like having an eighteen year old going to college," says McCord. "I love you, but get the f*@# out!"

Melt comes out on October 22, when McCord and Stiavetti begin their West Coast book tour, which includes dairybased parties in Portland, Seattle and Los Angeles. Sacramentans can meet them on November 24 at Taylor's Kitchen for a book signing and reception featuring recipes from the book paired with wines from Taylor's Market. Tickets cost $55 for a signed copy of the book, food and drink. Details can be found at meltmacaroni.com.