The culture of cheese part 1 : getting fresh

That's Amore Cheese window
For a product made with so few ingredients – milk and salt with the addition of a coagulant such as an acid or rennet – cheese can be very complex. Variables such as type of milk (cow, goat, sheep or buffalo), fat content, climate and conditions to grow bacteria and create mould and, most importantly, skill of the cheesemaker, make interesting additions to the complexity mix.

According to the Dairy Industry Association of Australia, every Australian consumed 13.4kg of cheese in 2011/12. I was really disheartened to learn that 60% of this consumption is the cheddar style cheeses. Not that there is anything wrong with cheddars, but there is a whole world of cheese out there! I’m exploring the younger end of the spectrum below:

Fresh or curd cheese

The simplest style is made by adding a coagulant to warm milk to create solid curds and liquid whey. That’s what Miss Muffet was about on her tuffet. When the whey is drained the resultant curds are stirred, pressed or stretched. The exception is ricotta (meaning recooked in Italian) where coagulant is added to near boiling liquid whey and then strained. Due to a short shelf life, fresh cheeses are best purchased and eaten within a few days, although shelf life can be extended by rolling in ash or marinating in oil or brine.

Great examples worth seeking out:

That’s Amore Fior Di Latte (pictured above)– mild cows milk mozzarella with a richness that works equally well in a tomato and basil salad or melted on a pizza.

Yarra Valley Dairy Persian Fetta – the original creamy cows milk fetta marinated in garlic, thyme, bay and peppercorns. Try it with glass of rose or cider.

Shaw River Buffalo Mozzarella – buffalo milk is higher in protein and fat than cows milk, yet this porcelain white cheese has a delicate texture and a sweet, milky taste.

White mould cheese

Don’t let the name put you off, this category includes universal favourites camembert and brie. In production drained curds are pressed and shaped into rounds before being sprayed with mould to encourage surface bacteria growth. The mould is a protectant as well as flavour enhancer. These cheeses can be aged from a week up to three months with the depth and density of the crust, pungency and ripeness being a key indicator of age. Even straight from the fridge white mould cheese should never be overly firm or have a chalky interior. When perfectly ripe, there is a gradual increase in firmness from just inside the crust, where runny is a good sign, to the centre.

Fun facts:

Any ripe (the cheese should give a little like a ripe avocado when you squeeze it gently) brie, camembert or other white mould style made by a local artisanal cheesemaker will have a much greater depth of flavour than its mass produced cousin. In a perfect world this style of cheese wouldn’t be massed produced with the addition of ‘science’ to extend shelf life and enable travel across the country.

The words ‘Double Cream’ and ‘Triple Cream’ denote a denser, richer cheese as cream has been added to the milk during the cheesemaking process. Incidentally they mean the same thing.

For optimum flavour and texture, eat white mould cheese as close to its use by date as possible. Although I usually eat the rind, it is a personal choice. A slight ammonia-like odour is not a bad thing but a weepy cheese is. If a white mould cheese bleeds liquid, question the skill of the cheesemaker.

Bruny Island Cheese window
Washed rind cheese

These flavour-packing versions of white mould cheese have been incredibly popular of late. Said to have been created by monks to satisfy ‘meaty’ cravings during periods of abstinence, these cheeses are also known for their very strong and sometimes questionable odour. Did someone say smelly socks? To create the washed appearance and taste, the cheeses are regularly wiped with brine, wine or brandy and/or herbs and spices during maturation. Unless you want your whole fridge to smell of strong cheese, always store washed rind cheeses in airtight containers.

Two great Australian examples:

Bruny Island Cheese Company 1792 (pictured above): named for the year the French arrived in Tasmanian, this intriguing cheese, washed with brine while sitting on Huon Pine, is rich and earthy.

Cheese King River Gold: one of the originals and still one of the most popular, this multi-award winning cheese has been described as both fruity and smoky. It’s stronger and more pastural tasting sister, Milawa Gold, is good too.

Did you know?

– The technical term for the wash is ‘brevi linen’ – a type of bacteria.

– Some describe washed rind cheese as having ‘salami’ characteristics.

– Often cheesemakers will denote washed rinds with ‘red’ in the name – some examples: Tarago River Jensen’s Red, Tasmanian Heritage Red Square, Old Telegraph Road Fire Engine Red and Kingaroy Cheese Bunya Red.

Before I wrap up part 1, I’ll leave you with a bit of cheese etiquette: cut round white mould cheeses into wedges as you would a cake. That way, each piece includes the oozy edge inside the rind as well as the creamy interior. Sit back, take a deep breath and enjoy the progression from runny to soft-set centre.

I’m again working with the Good Food & Wine Show bringing boutique, artisanal cheesemakers to a mainstream food and wine show. As well as managing the specialty destination I’ll be presenting masterclasses. More info here. The stellar lineup of cheesemakers at the first show of the year, Melbourne, from 7 to 10 June, includes:

Ashgrove Cheese
Bangalow Cheese Co
Boosey Creek Cheese
Bruny Island Cheese
Grandvewe Cheeses
High Valley
HunterBelle Cheese
Kingaroy Cheese
Milawa Cheese Company
Moondarra Cheese
Olympus Cheese
Organic Dairy Farmers of Australia
Shaw River
That’s Amore Cheese
Wholemilk Continental Cheese Company
Yarra Valley Dairy
Warrnambool Cheese & Butter

Lyndey Milan, Australian home cook hero, combines a thirst for life and a sense of fun with a love of good food and sparkling shiraz. A familiar face on television and in print, she been instrumental in changing the way Australians think and feel about food and wine for over thirty years.

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