I turned 31 a little while ago. My parents back in Australia sent me a cheese voucher – such a good present! The problem was, I ordered everything all in one go. So when our vegetable draws were overflowing with fragrant, paper-wrapped packages, and the mingling of odours were becoming all bit much, we decided we really needed to invite people around to help us get eat it all.
We started in near the Alps with comte and some extremely ripe vacherin mont d’or. Comte is fast becoming one of my favourite cheeses. It is nutty, slightly springy, fresh. The vacherin was almost too ripe. Its prime season is October-April – so the last rounds at the end of May were always going to be potent. Almost overpowering, it I would prefer to try it younger, maybe next February.
Back in England, we went for harder cheeses next. The cheddar is the Somerset made Keens Chedder – cloth bound, 14 months old, with a strong flavour and moist texture. We made our own interpretations and then looked up various commentaries. The suggestion of onions did seem to fit, once it was mentioned. The other hard cheese was Old Winchester (or also known as Old Smales). This was more flaky and dry, described as a aged Gouda-pecorino style cheese. It’s also a bit nutty, but much drier than the comte.
Finally, there was the gooey Baby Wigmore. Made from unpasteurised ewes milk, it oozed over the board, and was quickly scooped up with bread.
There was also some really excellent Beenleigh blue but I forgot to take photos. Oh, and some broccoli salad, just to make sure we didn’t have coronaries.
Back in the Sydney summertime, I missed the wedding of two very good friends. Not to be completely left out, we got up at 2am in our cold south London flat, turned the heaters up high and dressed in a summery grass green, we listened to the ceremony on skype. It made me miss home.
But, when I went back to Sydney last month I found out they had kept some wedding cake for us. A vacuum packed wedge of Monta dei Pascoli, a semi hard Italian alpine cheese, was sitting patiently in the fridge. It was the bottom layer of the amazing vertical cheese board that they had as their wedding cake. Who needs fruit cake when you can have of tiers of cheeses?
As you can see from the photo above, the layers included a mix of washed rind, white mould, and blue. The full collection was made up from:
- Delice de Bourgogne
- Ocello brie
- Tarwin blue (we had a bit of this too when we were in Sydney, fresh rather than saved from the wedding cake)
- Monta dei Pascoli
Being quite numerically minded, I had an idea of trying to find some statistics on the number of weddings that have started having cheese wedding cakes. I had no luck. I did find that the British Cheese Board offers tips for what to use and how much to get – the key thing I took away was that if you allocate around 100g /cheese per person, you should be set.
If you head down south from the Australian mainland towards Tasmania (the southern island state), you need to cross the Bass Strait. Through this strip of water blows the roaring forties – strong westerly winds that occur between the latitudes of 40 and 49 degrees – and in the middle lies King Island. A friend of mine once kayaked across this stretch of water…I have no idea why.
The powerful winds have made King Island the location of more than 60 shipwrecks, but the island’s fertile soil has also made it home to the King Island Dairy and its many cheeses.
(source: Tasmania Online)
King Island Dairy makes a number of farmhouse and specialty cheeses ( I’m not sure if they are too big a dairy to be called artisinal), including a number of blues. The strongest is the ‘Roaring Forties’ -a creamy rather than crumbly blue which is not quite spreadable. It has slightly sweet and salty veins that bite just a little in your mouth. It is aged for 10-12 weeks and wrapped in blue wax.
They also make a softer, blue-laced white mould cheese – the blue brie. A milder sister to the roaring forties, it was almost too creamy for me. It needs to be left out of the fridge for quite a while – we left it overnight in Autumn Blue Mountains weather (so maybe around 14-16C) which was good but it really got better once it softened up even more.
I’ve been away in Australia and suddenly it has been a whole mouth since I posted. I had ambitious plans to write whilst I was on holidays but I spent my time catching up with family and friends instead. This involved lots of eating and drinking and definitely not enough exercise to balance it out.
There was particularly lots of cheese eaten. On our second day in Sydney, my partner in cheese-loving, Naomi, introduced me to a strong and amazing Hunter Valley goats cheese. Made by Binnorie Dairy in the Pokolbin wine district, their Valencay is an ash-coated white mould goats cheese, made in the similar style and appearance to traditional French Valencay cheeses.
As an aside, when I looked up Valencay on google, the bulk of information relates to its shape. Apparently, it was once a full pyramid in shape, but an angry Napoleon chopped off the top on his way through the town after terrible fighting in Egypt, leaving the cheese in its truncated pyramid form ever since.
Aged for up to 2 months, a couple of hours outside of the fridge lets the outer part of the cheese become all dirty white and gooey, with an almost translucent appearance. This is next to the firm, but still crumbly, white centre, that was more distinctively goaty. It was one of the most delicious cheese I had tried in ages. It really doesn’t need anything else on the cheeseboard with it.
Wondering if jetlag may have made me overly enthusiastic, Naomi and I went to the the Binnorie stall at the Eveleigh Farmers Markets a couple of weeks later. It was just as good.
It’s funny where blog reading will take you. In addition to cheese, I am really fascinated by the geographies of food and how it links to place, how people see their environment and how this can be used in design and art. One blog I regularly read is Edible Geography. Recent posts included mapping linkages between cupcakes and gangs, as well as fascinating post on the meaning and information that can be imparted by wine labels. This got me thinking about cheese and the different approach to information-sharing that occurs here.
Looking online, I found an interesting collection of vintage cheese labels that was originally published in Culture magazine and reproduced in the Design Observer . I’ve included one below, which I hope they don’t mind.
Picture: Culture Magazine/Design Observer
What is interesting is that most of these labels are for processed and single size cheeses. They are really a form of advertising, for attracting buyers on the supermarket shelves. There is nothing wrong with this, but it contrasts significantly with many artisan cheeses, which tend to have much more limited labelling. Given cheese, just like wine, is in many ways shaped by the area where is comes from and that labelling/controlled title can be hotly debated, the minimalist approach makes cheese quite unique.
Most cheeses I buy have no labels or at least none that you can take home with you. Much of this probably practical, given lots of cheese is purchased as parts of the whole, as well as the desire by to see the cheese in its naked state – there are few things more lovely that a full display of different cheeses. But in some ways, the removal of labelling creates a central need for someone who can then share the cheeses with you. Cheese buying, especially for those of us with limited knowledge, can be exciting but overwhelming. Just a name can mean nothing, so a good cheese monger is essential to explain what it is, where it’s from, and how old it is. An unhelpful cheese monger can mean that questions are not asked and good cheeses are missed.
It has all been very hectic lately. I’m heading back to Australia tonight for a holiday – the first time I’ve been back in over two years. I hoping Sydney can produce some sunny, warm weather as I really want to go surfing without a wetsuit!
And I have lots of cheese plans. There is a whole world of local cheese that I barely know and hope to share. So I’ll try and keep you posted.
Turns out, there are lots of cheese names that could equally be the names of writing fonts. I randomly discovered this because of a slightly stupid (but surprisingly addictive and distracting) game – cheese or font? It can fill an impressive amount of time…so don’t play at work.
A post is much nicer with a photo, so I’ve included some crottin de chavignol. I ate it all before writing any notes but it is a dry and crumbly goats cheese from Chavignol in France. The name literally translates as ‘horse dung from Chavignol’ – a name whih doesn’t raise the most appealing imagery but comes from its appearance after lengthy maturing. Mine wasn’t quite that old, but if I had kept for 3 months, it should have shrunk down and turn quite dark.
It went bizarrely well with a homemade cashew and polenta soda bread. The bread was actually much more moist that it should have been so the cheese really saved it.