Buffalo leads stampede from old-style cheddar
CHEESES from across the country were lined up this week in the judging rooms at Sydney Olympic Park for the annual Sydney Royal Cheese & Dairy Produce Show (a full day is devoted to cheese; www.rasnsw.com.au). FoodDetective is on the spot and picks up some pointers.
Gerry Andersen, chairman of the dairy products committee, tells Detective the awards have been in place for more than 100 years. But things have changed. Industrial-grade cheddar used to be the go, now goat’s and ewe’s milk cheeses are outnumbering the old-style favourites; buffalo cheese is in with a showing as well.
Much sought-after buffalo cheese is still a tiny presence, with two entries (in different categories) both from Vannella Cheese Factory in Far North Queensland.
Helen Parker, Sydney Royal’s wine, dairy and fine food co-ordinator, says there are about five buffalo dairies in the country; of these Shaw River Buffalo Dairy, on the Great Ocean Road in western Victoria, is a standout but has insufficient milk to enter this year.
There are seven sheep’s milk entries (five dairies) and a splendid 52 entries from 31 goat’s cheesemakers. Specialty cheeses submitted total 235; cheddar just 44. A big shift, but chief judge Neil Willman tells Detective it’s been happening over the past few years. A ‘‘ very new thing’’, Parker tells Detective, is cheese made from blends — sheep and goat or goat and cow— which has hit the market in the past 18 months. Three innovative makers are: Capparis Goat Cheese near Barrington Tops, NSW, where Aled Hoggett is cheesemaker; Woodside Cheese Wrights in South Australia, where Kris Lloyd is head cheesemaker and Grandvewe Cheeses, a sheep dairy in Tasmania, where Diane Rae is farmer and cheesemaker.
Meanwhile, guest judge Yves Boutonnat, ex French Dairy Authority, is one of a panel of three tasting a goat’s curd cheese, a gold medal winner, Detective decides. ( GPO Cheese and Wine Room manager Sonia Cousins is on this panel, not as a voting judge, but wearing the ‘‘ learner’s’’ badge of an associate, which already requires loads of expertise and will take her into full judging in due course.) ■ AND best in show is: King Island Dairy’s Bass Strait Blue, bagging Champion Cheese of Show and other gongs. The Australian Cheeseboard Perpetual Trophy awards its choices for the best platter, and they are Bass Strait Blue, Bega Cheese Co-op’s Matured Cheddar, Tasmanian Heritage’s Signature Camembert, Holy Goat’s La Luna (organic cheesemakers Carla Meurs and Ann Marie Monda) and Vannella Cheese Factory’s Bufalina.
JUDGE Boutonnat will be a special guide on the Royal Agricultural Society’s Cheese & Dairy Produce Study Tour of the UK and France in May; think stilton, livarot, bleu d’auvergne, salers (Boutonnat’s favourite cheese, he tells Detective) and the caves of Roquefort. www.aftravel.com.au.
SIDE view: Detective wants to know what Boutonnat thinks of the ban on unpasteurised milk. It restricts the cheese, he says, confining it to a narrower range of flavours and textures.
SNIPPETS: Randolph Hodgson, owner of renowned UK cheesemaking and selling institution Neal’s Yard Dairy (www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk), which has retail outlets at London’s Borough Markets and Covent Garden, was formerly a cheese judge for the RAS.
In another connection, Ceridwen Brown, daughter of Victoria’s Milawa Cheese owners Ann and David Brown, is an assistant manager at Neal’s Yard. Milawa’s muchawarded ashed white-moulded goat’s cheese is named for her.
LEXUS Appetite for Excellence, the new tag given last year to Lexus’s Young Chef and Waiter Awards program, officially launches its 2008 drive on Monday at Henschkes Hill of Grace in SA’s Barossa Valley. Last year’s Lexus Young Chef, Melanie Gowers, will cook and Jai Leighton, 2007 young waiter of the year, will serve. Applications for this year’s awards are open until April 4. www.appetiteforexcellence.com. ■ GIPPSLAND Inspired, a regional Victorian food festival, takes flight next Friday with a degustation dinner at Lyre Bird Hill Winery, Koonwarra, with Melbourne restaurateur Dur-e’ Dara, onetime partner in Stephanie’s Restaurant. The month-long celebrations (until March 23) include feasts, classes, markets and more. www.inspiredbygippsland.com.au.
CANBERRA residents are in for a king- sized treat when Victoria’s King Valley winemakers and Milawa producers — chocolate, cheese, fruit and olive products — come to town next Friday and Saturday for Taste the King Valley in Canberra. A winemakers’ Mediterranean feast, $135 a head, and a Wine & Regional Produce Expo, $25 a 31/ 2- hour session, February 22 & 23. At Park Hyatt, Yarralumla. www.visitwangaratta.com.au. ■ WEATHER watch. NSW rains are bringing mixed results: wild pine mushrooms from Oberon are in markets, but oyster quality is uncertain. Most NSW estuaries were closed to oyster farming this week and the oysters are spawning early due to unseasonal weather. They’ll be back in season late in October. ■ FIND of the week: Love Chocolate bites, made of couverture chocolate, free-range eggs, no additives, by Snowy Mountains Cookies, at selected retailers in three states. www.snowycookies.com.au. ■ DETECTIVE loves: Hell’sKitchenUK. Theatre, characters, even food insights. LifeStyle Food Channel, Fridays, 8.30pm. ■ DETECTIVE loathes: Restaurant owners blaming wait staff when things go wrong.