by Grace Topping
It’s no wonder mysteries featuring food and cooking are popular with readers. The food descriptions are enticing and frequently introduce dishes that may be new. They also whet our appetites for the foods being described. The main character in Korina Moss’s series owns a cheese shop. So while reading her latest release, Curds of Prey, I made multiple trips to my refrigerator searching for cheese—although none of mine was as good as the cheese Korina describes in her books. I need to make a trip to a cheese shop. In the meantime, I spent time with Korina, a member of our Writers Who Kill group, talking about Curds of Prey and all kinds of cheese.
In Korina Moss’s Curds of Prey, murder again comes to Yarrow Glen, and cheesemonger Willa Bauer must be the predator … before she becomes the prey.
Yarrow Glen’s favorite cheese shop, Curds & Whey, gets to be a part of the social event of the season: Summer Harrington’s wedding. Cheesemonger Willa Bauer is going all out for the wedding shower’s cheese bar. But the eagle-eyed Harrington family is proving to be a pain in her asiago. A last-minute tasting ends in disaster when one of Willa’s potential beaus, Roman, gets in a fight with the groom. Then the shower arrives, and while there’s anything but love in the air, there is plenty of cheese. Oh, and Roman… again. The day officially ends in disaster when Willa finds the groom―who also happens to be the mayor’s nephew―in the stable, dead as a dodo. At the mayor’s request, Willa must follow the trail of cheese curds to find a killer while continuing to walk a tightrope between two of Sonoma Valley’s most powerful families. amazon.com
What inspired you to write a mystery series featuring a cheese shop owner?
It was actually an idea from an editor at St. Martin’s Press, who was seeking a writer for a cozy mystery with the theme of a cheese shop owner. My agent asked if I’d like to vie for the contract, so of course, I did. I began brainstorming ideas and researching cheese, and within a few weeks, I had a proposal (synopsis, the first three chapters, and summaries for the next two books in the series). They loved it and gave me a three-book contract. Last summer, I got a second three-book contract to continue the series (six books total, thus far). The theme was the catalyst, but my inspiration for what became the Cheese Shop Mystery series came from my love of cozy mysteries and my newfound respect for cheese and cheesemongers. I discuss this inspiration in more detail in an article I wrote for Women Writers, Women’s Books.
Since you live in New England, why did you set your series in the Sonoma, California, area?
When I was researching cheese, I came across the northern California cheese trail – a map where tourists can discover where to visit artisan cheese shops, creameries, and homestead dairy farms to learn about and eat cheese. I liked the idea of setting it in a region known for wine. Although they go together, it’s also a little unexpected to focus on cheese in a wine country setting. My fictional small town of Yarrow Glen has its roots in dairy farming, so it’s a bit of an underdog compared to the fancier surrounding vineyard towns that draw the bulk of the tourists. The underdog theme of the town itself parallels my protagonist, Willa, and many of the small business owners in town who make up the close-knit community in my book.
In cozy mysteries, the main character’s business or interest is a key component of the story, and readers will often gravitate to cozies with certain businesses. How do you balance how much focus you give Willa’s cheese business with the mystery she must solve?
That’s a great question. One reader who reviewed my first book, Cheddar Off Dead, said she absolutely loved it, but she was furious that Willa kept going off to investigate instead of staying in her new shop to work. I thought that was funny, but she had a point. You need to balance realism with the fairly rapid pace of a mystery. I want my readers to walk away with new knowledge and fun facts about cheese and, hopefully, a desire to explore new types. I’ve heard from readers that they develop a craving for cheese while reading my books, so I’ve done my job there. But I also need to develop the characters and their relationships, keep the town alive and the cheese shop cozy, and solve a mystery, which should always be at the forefront. To accomplish this, I make sure all my cheese shop scenes serve a purpose toward developing the mystery itself, which keeps pushing the momentum forward.
You write authoritatively about a wide variety of cheeses. Were you knowledgeable about cheese before you started your series?
Not at all. I was your average cheese eater who liked eating it and bought the same four varieties at the grocery store. I love it when readers think I must’ve been a cheesemonger myself—it’s a great compliment, and it means I’ve done my research. However, when interviewers ask me a lot of specific questions about cheese, I have to remind them that I’m not actually a cheese expert. I’m a mystery writer.
How did you research the various cheeses you describe in your books?
Because my protagonist Willa is a cheesemonger—a cheese expert—I felt I needed to do a lot of research to get it right. I discovered that cheese is a subject that you could never know everything about. It’s also extremely interesting—the centuries-long history, the multitude of ways it’s made, all the variables that contribute to its flavor and texture… I fell in love with it, not just because it’s delicious. My first book was written during the initial months of the pandemic, so I only had Google to help me out. I’ve since found a local artisan cheese shop, Spread Cheese Co in Middletown, CT, whose owners and cheesemonger are three young women much like Willa (without the amateur sleuthing). They’re now my resource for cheese, although I still take full credit for anything I might get wrong in the books.
When reading Curds of Prey, I wanted to sample the cheeses you described. Do you have a problem limiting the amount of cheese you consume—all in the name of research?
Ha! All in the name of research, indeed. The only saving grace is that the cheese shop I mentioned is almost an hour away, so I don’t have the time to get to it as often as I’d like. I try to limit myself by just sampling. Although some cheese is so good, I just have to bring home a wedge and indulge myself.
Do you have a favorite cheese? Or does that change with each new cheese you try?
It changes with each new cheese and at a moment’s notice. Last fall, in one shopping visit, I’d brought home Brabander Gouda, Curat de Búfala (my first buffalo-milk cheese), and the World Champion Rogue River Blue, a seasonal blue cheese wrapped in syrah grape leaves soaked in pear spirits. Each time I ate one of the cheeses, I’d insist it was my favorite… until I had the next and the next and went back to the first. They were all so different but incredibly delicious.
In Curds of Prey, you shine a light on the wealthier side of the community. Is it true what they say about the rich being different?
By the fact that they are automatically given the privilege of power, yes. In Curds of Prey, it’s assumed by everyone, even the wealthy Harringtons themselves, that they’ll receive special treatment during the ongoing murder investigation. It’s something that bothers Willa, since the guy she’s dating is one of the prime suspects. It also concerns the mayor, so Willa begins sleuthing on her own. However, the Harringtons aren’t the only powerful family Willa should be worried about.
Authors often will take a writing retreat so they can focus solely on writing, especially when facing a deadline. Please tell us about some of the writing retreats you’ve taken.
I’ve worked retreats into my budget because they’re a must for me. I wish I could take more! I’ve spent a few days in the Catskills in one of those tiny houses with a view of the woods and no internet. Being unplugged is a great way to focus. I’ve driven to an Airbnb with a lake view. By far, the best one has been my most recent, a solo writing retreat cruise, which was utterly divine and boosted my creativity. I wrote about it in my March Writers Who Kill blog post.
How was your path to publication? You had a terrific launch of your first book, with it garnering an Agatha nomination for Best First Novel. Congratulations. Did the nomination put more pressure on you when writing the subsequent books in the series?
Thank you. I’m so honored to be nominated for the Agatha Award, named after Agatha Christie. (Pinch me.) The nominations were announced in January of this year after my second book had already been released, my third book was about to be released, and my fourth was nearing completion. I suppose that’s a good thing, or I may have felt added pressure. Now with four books under my belt, I still feel the pressure to make each book as good or better than the last, but mostly I just love getting to return to Yarrow Glen and decide what’s next for my characters, who I’ve grown to love.
Since you started writing, what is the most valuable thing you’ve learned along the way?
The act of writing may be solitary, but being a writer isn’t. The mystery writing community is a big family that befriends and supports one another. For any mystery writer, beginner or otherwise, who may feel alone in their endeavors, I would say to join a writing organization like Sisters in Crime and your local chapter of SinC, attend a conference if you can, or connect virtually with other writers. Read blogs like this one, follow authors on social media, and immerse yourself in the writing community.
What’s next for Willa?
Another murder investigation, of course. Book 4, Case of the Bleus, comes out in September and is available for preorder. I did something a little different with this one. It’s not only about solving a murder but also finding the secret to an extremely valuable and highly sought-after bleu cheese. The book contains cryptic clues, a word scramble, and riddles for the reader to try solving along with Team Cheese. I think it’s going to be a fun one. Here’s the book jacket description: What in the bleu blazes is happening in Yarrow Glen now?
Cheesemongers across the Northwest have come to the Sonoma Valley for the Northwest Cheese Invitational. As the owner of the local cheese shop, Curds & Whey, Willa Bauer loves it. The event showcases custom cheese creations, and it’s the perfect time to gather with old colleagues to honor her former boss, the late and grate cheese legend Max Dumas. He was famous for journeying into the wild bleu yonder to where he aged his award-winning custom Church Bleu. Only Max knew the recipe and location of his beloved cheese, and many are eager to have these revealed at the reading of his will.
But instead of naming someone to inherit his cheese and its secrets, Max stuns everyone with one cryptic clue. When a fellow cheesemonger dies under mysterious circumstances––the woman they all thought would get the secrets to Max's prized possession––everyone falls under suspicion. Willa adores Church Bleu as much as the next cheese connoisseur, but it’s not to die for. Is a killer trying to get away with murder...and the cheese?
Thank you, Korina. And now I’m off to find another piece of cheese.
You can learn more about Korina Moss and her series at https://www.korinamossauthor.com/
and on Facebook and Instagram.