To brie, or not to brie ...

Oc­to­ber is New Zealand Cheese Month, and Grant Smithies is de­ter­mined to get his share.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - OPINION GRANT SMITHIES -

This is my favourite time of the year. For one thing, it’s so warm that I’m writ­ing this wear­ing shorts. For an­other, spring is surely the most beau­ti­ful of sea­sons, with ev­ery­thing sud­denly burst­ing with life af­ter the go-slow hold­ing pat­tern of win­ter.

Out­side my win­dow, a light breeze ruf­fles the white blos­som skirts of the plum trees, with early flow­er­ing apri­cots blush­ing pink nearby.

Our cat Claude stalks through the long grass, look­ing like some wild crit­ter from a David At­ten­bor­ough doco that’s shrunk in the wash, at­tempt­ing to catch bees, birds and but­ter­flies with a spec­tac­u­lar lack of suc­cess.

Bum­ble­bees buzz about, clumsy as drunks, stum­bling from flower to flower amid the broad beans. A lovely cit­rus scent blows in my open win­dow from the lemon tree, which is lit up with bright yel­low bulbs of fruit.

Up near the back fence, my neigh­bour has in­stalled a rooster in his chook run, and his ma­cho crow­ing wakes the neigh­bour­hood around 5am. Given that he’s nowhere near as use­ful as an egglay­ing fe­male chook, you’d think it it might be more pru­dent to STFU and not draw at­ten­tion to your sta­tus as a re­dun­dant mem­ber of the flock.

But no. From sun­rise to sun­set, he gives it heaps. Coq au Vin, any­one?

But the all-round sen­sory splen­dour of spring is not my main rea­son for lov­ing the fi­nal weeks of Septem­ber. I love Septem­ber be­cause it’s al­most Oc­to­ber, and we all know what that means.

Oc­to­ber is New Zealand Cheese Month, set up by the New Zealand Spe­cial­ist Cheese­mak­ers As­so­ci­a­tion to draw at­ten­tion to the fact that our ar­ti­san cheeses are among the best in the world.

Through­out the month there’ll be a raft of ‘‘meet the cheese­maker’’ events, in-store pro­mo­tions, tast­ings and farm open days, de­tails of which are listed by re­gion at cheeselovers.co.nz.

It is a time when fro­ma­geophiles like me shout ‘‘Blessed are the cheese­mak­ers!’’ from the rooftops, or, at the very least, heap praise on their wares in the hope that they might bom­bard me with free cheese.

This kind of cheesy rant­ing comes easy to me. ‘‘Write what you know’’, they say, and I know cheese. In­deed, I can safely say, hand on heart, that I con­sider cheese the finest food ever made by hu­man hand, de­spite stiff com­pe­ti­tion from sausages and pies.

Where some see heart-clog­ging lumps of co­ag­u­lated milk fat, I see a pro­tein-heavy won­der food with a noble her­itage run­ning right back to those dis­tant days when we first swung down out of the trees, shed some body hair, reared up on our hind legs and started scratch­ing around for some­thing de­li­cious to eat.

The roots of the cheese­maker’s art run deep. I have it on good author­ity that some pre­his­toric bright spark wear­ing a fur one­sie once squeezed lemon juice into a gourd full of rein­deer milk that was about to go off, then pressed the curds into a flat, round shape, thereby in­vent­ing the wheel.

Cue much re­joic­ing among fel­low Ne­an­derthals, who were sick to death of end­less hunt­ing and gath­er­ing. Be­fore you could say Croque Mon­sieur, they were mak­ing toasted cheese sand­wiches in their cave.

I’m not sure if this is his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate. But my point is – cheese has been bring­ing joy to hun­gry hu­mans for a very long time.

You can, ad­mit­tedly, have too much of a good thing. Ear­lier this week, the New Zealand Cheese Month or­gan­is­ers sent me a bumper ham­per of fine ar­ti­sanal cheeses.

In­side, there was buf­falo cheese, gooey camem­bert, pi­quant pecorino, some black ash-rolled brie, milky truf­fle dip and fresh moz­zarella balls.

This wel­come bounty had been gath­ered from ev­ery cor­ner of the land. There was a pun­gent slab of Very Old Edam from Ma­hoe Farm­house Cheese in Orom­a­hoe, and a wedge of Grin­ning Gecko brie from Whangarei, a glo­ri­ously sweet and subtle de­light that jus­ti­fi­ably won gold at this year’s Cham­pi­ons of Cheese Awards.

There was an el­e­gantly thin sliver of Vintage Gouda from Paeroa’s Mercer Cheese, some oozy Smoked Goat’s Cheese from Marl­bor­ough’s Cranky Goat, and from the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Oa­maru came a wel­come old favourite: White­stone’s Wind­sor Blue.

Top­ping things off was an en­tire cheese­board of de­lights from Puhoi Valley, who won four Cham­pi­ons Of Cheese gongs at the 2016 New Zealand Cheese Awards, in­clud­ing the Cham­pion Of Cham­pi­ons supreme award for its kick-ass Gor­gonzo­lastyle flavour bomb, Kawau Blue.

Reg­u­lar read­ers will know I am a man who likes to share the love. So, in cel­e­bra­tion of NZ Cheese Month, I in­vite fel­low cheese fiends to email me at grant.smithies@fair­fax­me­dia.co.nz with any cheese-re­lated anec­dotes, haiku, lim­er­icks or love let­ters.

No waf­fle al­lowed. I’m a busy man, with a full fridge of cheese to get through. All email of­fer­ings need to be pun­gent and pow­er­packed, like a good Stil­ton. The three emails I like best will each be re­warded with a $50 voucher for some Cham­pion Award­win­ning Puhoi Valley cheese.

Praise cheeses! Hal­lelu­jah for New Zealand Cheese Month.

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