Where's the cheese?
Updated: Oct 12, 2021
Not all cheeses are created equal, as I assume we all know. Some take many years to mature and ripen while others can be made quickly and with little intervention. Ricotta, for example, can be made in your home kitchen with little more than some good full fat milk, a bit of citric acid or white/apple cider vinegar and a pinch of salt. A sieve and a clean towel and you are pretty much done.
Now, we are all picnicking like it is 1912, and given it is one of the few things we can do to enjoy time with others with lockdowns and the change of seasons, having a knowledge of what and where to procure good cheese is a must. The Mould Cheese Collective is a good option to test you, as they host (when we can) Mould Cheese Festivals across Australia. They deliver to your door so get into their monthly boxes.
If you are in Melbourne, look no further than Maker and Monger at Prahran Market. Owner Anthony Femia and his team have an impeccable knowledge of cheese, have butter flying in at present for Normandy (oh yes you better do!), and can guide you on a cheesy journey to suit both your budget and taste. There will be no old blocks of supermarket tasty, but there will be a few additions from me to augment the perfect board.
You want no more than five cheeses. While I could very easily just eat cheese for each meal, any more than that puts your palate under stress. They should also be a combination of different milks, textures, and even colours. My go to five usually include: a standard - like an aged cheddar; a soft - think brie, creamy blue or camembert styles; a challenge - something bold and a little off the wall; a goat or sheep milk - nice and sharp and bitey and a surprise, and another blue, just because.
Cheddar is named for the town in Somerset in the UK and is very often a little sharp, occasionally crumbly and should be aged in cloth. My choice is a Cabot Clothbound aged by Jasper Hill Cellars from Vermont, USA. Notes from Maker and Monger include: this crumbly cheddar is wrapped in cloth then coated in lard for its maturation time, imparting a nutty earthy aroma when the cloth is removed. Tasting it touches every part of your pallet starting savoury and tangy then developing a caramel sweetness to finish.
The soft cheeses are plentiful by choice, but I have gone with a Seine-et-Marne, French cow’s milk, white mould soft called Brie Fermier. It's a thick, gooey and udderly delightful, with a hint of bitterness in the rind. Bring this to room temperature for about 30 minutes to get the best from it.
We have mentioned Berry's Creek Riverine Blue here before and it's a great Victorian cheese, named in honour of the buffalo breed grazing in Gippsland which provides the milk, this blue has a soft creamy texture with a light green, blue veining. A sweet delicacy and subtle perfume at room temperature compliments the purity of the outstanding milk used to produce the cheese.
Now for the fun. Goats milk has a sharp tang to it, more so than cows milk, so it makes awesome cheese. From Sutton Grange in Victoria comes Holy Goat's Organic La Luna. This has a wrinkly look about it, a soft rind and is ever so creamy and delicious. Herds forage on native grasses, herbs and shrubs, resulting in high quality milk and cheeses with unique complexity and depth, as well as a little sweetness. We love this, and the gooier it gets, the more lovely.
Finally, add a stinky washed rind. Monks from Northern France created washed rind cheese. They discovered that washing the rind while the cheese ripened, created a moist and supple texture. The surface is washed with a brine solution containing a bacteria called Brevibacterium Linens which gives the rind a red/orange colour and a certain pungency which can remind one of smelly socks. Long Paddock Driftwood is a slow lactic set cow’s milk washed rind cheese wrapped in spruce bark, made at Long Paddock, Dja Dja Wurrung, Castlemaine, Victoria. It is made in the style of the famous Mont d’Or of France and packs a walloping punch. Give it 2 hours out of the fridge and serve with a spoon so spread onto your preferred cracker or bread.
Now, you won't find this at Maker and Monger but I am a mad fan of Red Storm Red Leicester, made like cheddar but more moist and a little crumbly. Bright orange in colour from the addition of a natural food colour called annatto, it is a wonderful cheese and brightens up the platter and offers a little talking point. Maffra Cheese also makes a great Red Leicester if you want something made closer to home.
Always ask the purveyor of fine cheese about what suits your taste, budget and what you can try, to start to broaden out your palate and drag you away from buying supermarket cheese.
Maker and Monger is at Stall 98, Prahran Market. Follow your nose to the cheese toasties.