COVER STORY

Gone are the days of one hard, one soft, one blue; the new cheese­board is more com­plex and bet­ter than ever. AN­THONY HUCKSTEP meets the cheese­mak­ers who are break­ing rules, and reinventing the (cheese) wheel

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Contents -

Meet the mak­ers who are reinventing the (cheese) wheel, one board at a time.

Age doesn’t mat­ter, un­less you’re talk­ing about cheese. And the older we get, the more cheese seems to mat­ter. Yep, one of our great­est cre­ations has be­come the culi­nary opium of the masses. Melted on toast, shaved over pasta or spec­tac­u­lar on its own, cheese is ad­dic­tive, and per­haps more than we re­alise.

Cheese con­tains a pro­tein called ca­sein (found in all dairy) that re­leases opi­ates dur­ing di­ges­tion, so you get a lit­tle high with ev­ery bite. And as our ap­petite for fab­u­lous fro­mage ripens, so too is our artisan cheese­mak­ing in­dus­try.

Renowned cheese writer, ex­pert and gen­eral ‘big cheese’ Will Studd says he has watched the Aus­tralian in­dus­try come of age over the last decade.

“There is a grow­ing con­sumer un­der­stand­ing of the im­por­tance of sea­son, breed, and pas­ture, and it’s en­cour­ag­ing to see pro­duc­ers like Bruny Is­land [in Tas­ma­nia] mov­ing to cre­ate their own herd of tra­di­tional, rare breed cows” he ex­plains.

“Aus­tralia is a world leader in a unique ‘mar­i­nated’ cheese – think Mered­ith Dairy or Yarra Val­ley. We also have some great ex­am­ples of sur­face-ripened re­gional goat’s milk cheese in Holy Goat, and blue cheese in Berry Creek.”

Aus­tralian cheeses are mov­ing for­ward in leaps and bounds, and it’s largely due to two fac­tors – qual­ity milk and not be­ing bound by tra­di­tion.

Take Pec­ora Dairy in NSW, one of only a hand­ful of sheep’s milk dairies in Aus­tralia and win­ners of the 2017 de­li­cious. Pro­duce Awards’ Alla WolfTasker Foun­da­tion Schol­ar­ship. Own­ers, hus­band and wife Michael and Cres­sida Mcna­mara, make cheese us­ing sheep’s milk from their own flock, and they’re soon re­leas­ing Aus­tralia’s first un­cooked raw-milk cheeses. Be­fore now, Aus­tralian cheese has been made from pas­teurised milk, which is heated then cooled to re­move bac­te­ria. “Raw milk cheeses don’t make use of this, in­stead re­ly­ing on other meth­ods to elim­i­nate po­ten­tial bac­te­ria,” ex­plains Cres­sida.

And just as the French have used ter­roir to give per­son­al­ity to their wine, Pec­ora’s cheeses have the same po­ten­tial by main­tain­ing the unique mi­croflora from the soil and pas­ture. Cres­sida says their milk is rich and sweet, and pos­sesses dis­tinct sea­sonal vari­ances be­cause of the an­i­mals’ life­style.

“The com­pletely pas­ture-based sys­tem makes all the dif­fer­ence”, she ex­plains. Michael says he can “ramp up prove­nance” in the cheese. “You’ll be able to dis­tin­guish the dif­fer­ence between cheese made in win­ter, where the sheep have been eat­ing rye grass, to the cheese made in sum­mer, where the herd has been eat­ing trop­i­cal grasses such as mil­let.”

Cres­sida also points to the fact that not be­ing bound by tra­di­tion al­lows youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance to flour­ish.

“While some­times we look to the won­der­ful tra­di­tions of cheese-mak­ing across the world with envy, we don’t have the cen­turies-old tra­di­tions that Euro­peans have to abide by,” she says. It means that in­no­va­tion, backed by the lessons of tra­di­tion, is rife.

Mean­while, at L’artisan Cheese on a small fam­ily farm on the Great Ocean Road in Vic­to­ria, owner and third­gen­er­a­tion cheese­maker Matthieu Me­gard agrees on chal­leng­ing tra­di­tion.

“In Aus­tralia we feel free to get in­spired and find a re­sult that’s dif­fer­ent, and no one is shy of chal­leng­ing that. Af­ter a while, we stopped try­ing to em­u­late, and started pro­duc­ing our own cheeses,” says Me­gard.

Also in Vic­to­ria, Yarra Val­ley Dairy be­came the first com­pany to make mar­i­nated fresh cheeses in Aus­tralia. Head cheese­maker Jack Hol­man be­lieves our unique land­scape and dis­po­si­tion are our ad­van­tage.

“Our milk gives us an edge over the North­ern Hemi­sphere be­cause we can pro­duce it all year round with less vari­a­tion, and more con­sis­tency.”

Shaw River Buf­falo Cheese in Yam­buk, Vic­to­ria, is Aus­tralia’s largest farm­house buf­falo cheese pro­ducer with its own herd of buf­falo, and it has led by ex­am­ple for 22 years.

“We started mak­ing fresh buf­falo moz­zarella, but we wanted to be in­ven­tive,” says co-owner Thea Royal. “We were told by ex­perts that you can’t make hard cheese from buf­falo milk.”

In typ­i­cal Aussie fash­ion, they gave it a crack any­way and Buf­folino, a hard buf­falo cheese, aged for six months, was born. “It has great melt­ing prop­er­ties, with a smooth tex­ture and fruity flavour when it is aged,” says Royal.

So how should we en­joy these in­no­va­tive Aussie cheeses? “We’ll put out a hard cheese at three dif­fer­ent ages to taste how mat­u­ra­tion has in­flu­enced each cheese,” Hol­man sug­gests.

Studd be­lieves there are no rules, but you’re best to keep it sim­ple: “One great tast­ing cheese in per­fect con­di­tion is al­ways bet­ter than three in­nocu­ous cheeses,” he says, “and you can’t beat bread and wine for the holy trin­ity.”

Cres­sida Mcna­mara agrees. “Raw milk cheeses are best eaten just as is. You are what you eat, but also what you eat eats, and this is the op­por­tu­nity to taste the land in its purest form.” Meet the mak­ers at ‘Vic­to­ria & the World Tast­ing Room’, Mel­bourne Food and Wine Fes­ti­val. March 24, $55 in­clud­ing cheese and wine tast­ings, mel­bourne­foodand­wine.com.au

BIG CHEESES Clock­wise from top right: ‘La Luna’, Holy Goat; ‘Fer­mier, L’artisan; ‘Yar­rawa’, Pec­ora Dairy; ‘Le Rouge’, L’artisan; ‘Bloomy’, Pec­ora Dairy; ‘Black Savourine’, Yarra Val­ley Dairy; ‘King River Gold’, Mi­lawa Cheese; ‘Eclypse’, Holy Goat; ‘Moun­tain Man’, L’artisan. Avail­able from Si­mon John­son.

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