Blessed are the cheesemakers but what about the cheesemongers? Spring Street Grocer’s Anthony Femia, 28, has been in France the past two weeks, on a quest to snatch first prize at the World Contest of the Best Cheesemonger 2013 (“Conours Mondial du Meilleur Fromager 2013”). The competition was part of the three-day International Cheese Tours trade fair in the Loir Valley – an area renowned for its soft cheeses – and was held on June 2. Femia competed against nine of the best cheese-slingers from Belgium, France, USA, Italy and Japan in a grueling eight-hour battery of tests that included cheese plate-arranging, blind tasting, precision cutting, cheese-food-matching and oral and written food science exams. But it was the cheese sculpting that’s had Femia most worried. “That’s one thing we’ve never really done in Australia…”
While Australian artisanal cheesemaking has been gathering steam in recent years the art of cheesemongering – storing, aging, caring for cheeses and educating the public – has been slow to catch up, says Carla Meurs of Holy Goat Cheese and president of the Australian Specialist Cheesemakers’ Association. “Richmond Hill (Cafe and) Larder has … a really long record of good care of cheeses in Melbourne but in general we haven’t developed this whole idea of (an) expert. We have sommeliers with wine but we’re nowhere near that with cheese.”
There are some notable exceptions. Chef Shannon Bennett has seven staff on his Vue de Monde roster dedicated to cheese (“90 per cent of our clientele who come through the restaurant will have the cheese trolley,” he says). And in retail there’s Femia, Kirsty Laird at La Latteria in Carlton and in St Kilda, sisters Sabrina and Katia Cappodocio at Il Fornaio and British ex-pat Laura Lown at Milk The Cow. “Since we opened up (last year) I feel like there’s been this cheese boom,” says Lown, 25, who used to work at high-end London fromagerie Paxton and Whitfield, where she regularly delivered cheese to Buckingham Palace. “A lot of people now are starting to think about this whole raw and pasteurized (milk) debate and are starting to really appreciate the cheeses from around the world.”
Regulations regarding the importation of raw milk cheeses are still strict in Australia (Roquefort being one of the most high-profile exceptions) and Nick Haddow of the Bruny Island Cheese Company makes the only raw milk cheese in Australia (a cooked curd cheese aged 6-12 months). Cheesemongers like Anthony Femia hope to one day work with a much larger range, including raw milk soft cheeses.
In the end Femia was unable to make the podium in France, with first prize going to formidable ‘fromageur’ Miyki Murase. Nevertheless, he had a great time. “What a day…” he tweeted from the event. “Amazing experience, did Aust Cheese proud, met my heroes & made life long friends! #cheesesolidarity.” Cheese solidarity, indeed.
If you like…then try… says Anthony Femia
Cheddar…try Pyengana clothbound cheddar, from northern Tasmania. “Our only traditionally-made cheddar in the country. You can expect big ‘cheesey’ characteristics, very rich on the palette and lingering. A good example of farmhouse cheese.”
Brie…try Fromage de Meaux, from Ile de France, in northern France. “(It) exhibits amazing corn and cauliflower characteristics. (Australian bries can be too mild and buttery, built for shelf standard rather than flavour characteristics, unfortunately.) It’s best served at room temperature, 18-20 degrees Celsius.”
Emmental…try Cave-ripened Swiss Emmental. “Not many places carry it but it is amazing. In those holes in the cheese you get those little calcium crystals and when you cut into those they ‘cry’ what we call ‘angel tears.’ It’s just all the calcium crystals bursting and releasing that concentrated flavour.”
Mozzarella…try That’s Amore’s Fior Di Latte, from Donnybrook, central Victoria. “It’s a fresh, stretched cows’ milk cheese, perfect for pizzas, salads, you name it. It’s great, versatile and local as well.”
Stilton…try Colston Bassett Stilton, from Nottingham, England. “The only stilton available in the country still using traditional techniques – so, animal rennets, hand-ladling curds – and what that results in is an amazing, rich cheese. You’re getting the characters of the milk coming through and then this syrupy, blue flavour without being salty, it’s just perfectly balanced.”
Camembert…try Herve Mons Camembert, from France. “You get this big cauliflower – almost cold meat flavour – you get charcuterie on the palette and cauliflower. It’s this funky smell. When you’ve got that on a plate it does over-shadow a lot of things. It’s perfect.”