Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Christmas cheeseboard

Last week we had what is becoming our annual Christmas Cheese School - an evening of cheese, wine and beer tasting which to be honest is more of a jolly than a class. But I put together this festive cheeseboard just to show you don't have to go down the conventional route of featuring 5 or 6 cheeses.

It was inspired by sprays of decorative crab apples I found in our local greengrocer (most of my time was spent trying to persuade people not to eat them - not that they were poisonous, just bitterly sour). I added a brightly coloured persimmon and a pomegranate which I halved to show the seeds, some of the Fine Cheese Company's Toast for Cheese I told you about recently and a large hunk of Stichelton, the unpasteurised version of Stilton. It was unbelievably simple and looked really pretty in the glowing candlelight.

Have a happy Christmas, one and all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Australian cheese scene part 1: Yarra Valley Dairy

The Aussies are so good at everything food and wine-related I expected them to be brilliant at cheese too. It's coming but they still have a way to go, judging from my recent visit. Admittedly I didn't visit some of the best areas for cheese such as Gippsland and Tasmania but I'd say they were 4-5 years behind the states*.

They're hampered of course by the fact that they can't make unpasteurised cheeses, an extraordinary situation. Government intervention gone mad. They're campaigning against it as you can see from this poster in the cheese room at De Bortoli but until they get the right to work with raw milk they'll never make great cheese.

That was certainly the problem with the camembert-style cheeses I tasted at the Yarra Valley Dairy, one of the highlights of the trip in cheese terms but in every other respect it was a model modern dairy turning out interesting and innovative cheeses.

I particularly liked their marinated cheeses, Saffy and Cardi (Australians abbreviate everything!) made with saffron and cardamom respectively. They're softer than most marinated cheeses I've come across - more like a spice-infused spreadable cheese - and absolutely delicious. Saffy is made from cows milk and flavoured with saffron, cumin and lemon zest. Cardi, which is slightly smokey, is based on goats' milk. There's also a cheese called Juno (short for juniper, of course) which I didn't get to taste.

Jack Holman the cheesemaker also make a delicious Persian Fetta (sic) which is flavoured with olive oil, thyme and garlic and packed in rather dinky tins which are apparently served in Emirates first class. (I didn't get to experience that, sadly!) It would also be great crumbled into a salad or on pizza or flatbreads.

I also liked their Black Savourine - a Valençay-style ash-coated goats cheese though again this would have been better made from unpasteurised milk.

If you're in the area do visit them. They have s fantastic shop which also sells a lot of wines from small producers who don't have a cellar door. We tried the Bird on a Wire Marsanne (perfect with the Saffy) and a very good chardonnay called Salo which you can also buy from the excellent Barrique wine store in Healesville.

*For a more complete rundown on artisan cheeses in Australia read this recent feature in The Age.