To brie, or not to brie ...
October is New Zealand Cheese Month, and Grant Smithies is determined to get his share.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.