ADVICE FROM THE CHEESEMONGER
Selecting cheese for your own personal pleasure is all a matter of taste. If you are just starting out in the world of fine cheese, start with milder bloomy rinds and alpine styles to test your palate.
Once you’ve developed some confidence, delve into some pungent washed rinds, piquant blues and more robust cooked curds.
When selecting cheese in store, engage your senses to assess the condition of each cheese, using aromas and textures as clues for freshness and quality. Take advantage of your cheesemonger's expertise, let them know what you like and dislike, and ask for seasonal recommendations.
Selecting cheese for entertaining is a little more artful. We recommend these three key ways to design your cheese course:
A SINGLE STAND OUT
Choose one spectacular cheese, in perfect condition, and serve an overly generous portion of it with one or a few accompaniments. We love this option for either before dinner or as a dessert option for a party of between 12-20, so everyone can dig in without being shy.
Some of our top picks for this purpose are:
Brillat Savarin 500g, served with raspberries and a spoon!
Quicke’s Clothbound Cheddar, served with Bread & Butter Pickles, Cornichons, Poacher’s Pantry Ham and Fine Cheese Co Chive Biscuits.
THE TRIED & TRUE TRIO
Select a top shelf brie, blue and hard cheese for the perfect cross section of crowd pleasers. The general rule of thumb is to allow approximately 30g per cheese, per person. In our experience, soft cheeses disappear quicker than others, so we skew the ratio to around 50g of soft, 30g of hard and 15g of blue cheese per person. This can be adapted as you see fit, factoring in the habits of your party and other grazing options.
Our go to party trio consists of a generous portion of Fromage d’Affinois, a nice wedge of Quicke’s Clothbound Cheddar and a smaller piece of Tarwin Blue. You can purchase these cheeses in perfect portions for 10, 20 or 30 guests here.
A COMPARITIVE TASTING BOARD
Select between three and five cheeses that represent a cross section of styles, milk types or countries of origin to compare and contrast the nuances of each cheese. Keep pairing options to a minimum to allow the cheese to shine with this option. A comparative cheese tasting works best for small, intimate settings where you will take time to discuss each cheese.
Select one cow, one goat and one ewes milk cheese in a similar style to compare the profile of each milk.
Try this with Coal River Triple Crème Brie (cow), Pecora Dairy Bloomy(ewe) and Holy Goat Skyla (goat) for a nice cross section. All three cheeses are Australian and are bloomy rinds of similar age, which means you will be tasting similar styles from similar terroir, so the key notable contrast is the milk. This is a great way to learn to articulate flavour profiles and milk characters, and learn more about what you like and don’t like.
Hone in on a style, for instance blue cheese, and select three examples of that style from different origins and compare and contrast stylistic choices and terroir from different parts of the world.
Try this with Cashel Blue from Ireland, Saint Agur from France and Tarwin Blue from Victoria. Notice the difference between texture, flavour profiles and intensity of each. Think about the climate, culture and history of each area as points of discussion.
Choose a country and select a few cheeses of differing styles or ages to compare and contrast styles within one cheesemaking tradition.
Try this with Epoisses d’Bourgogne, Roquefort, Chabichou and Comte la Couronne, four examples of iconic French cheeses with big and bold characters. They range in style and texture profoundly but share their inherently French nature.
Always serve your cheese at room temperature. Cold temperatures dull flavours and alter texture, so your cheese appreciation will be hindered when eating cheese straight from the fridge. Bring your cheese to room temperature by taking it out of the fridge about one hour before serving. 30 minutes is sufficient in warmer temperatures.
Always provide an individual knife for every cheese and every accompaniment on your board to keep things clean and separate. You don’t want to mix your brie and blues or get honey all over every cheese.
If you have three or more cheeses, arrange them on your board from mildest to strongest, or youngest to oldest, and sample them in order of intensity.
While you can’t go wrong with a traditional quince paste, look to your pantry for surprising and delicious accompaniments to experiment with. Seasonal jams and marmalades, honey, roasted nuts, mustards, chutney, relishes and preserved vegetables are all great ways to round out your cheese plate. Fresh, crusty bread, simple crisp breads and salty lavosh are great for softer cheeses and many hard cheeses are best enjoyed simply on their own. Crisp, fresh pears and apples or wild olives are great fruits to temper the richness of cheese. Juicy grapes work well visually and are a good palate cleanser, but the acidity can be overwhelming with more delicate cheeses.
A seldom known but quite specific etiquette applies to the cutting of cheese. Flavour travels from the rind to the centre as cheese ripens, so never cut off the nose or tip of a cheese that is being shared; cut equally from the rind to the tip. Follow the simple rule that every piece of cheese should be divided so that the rind is equally shared between all portions.
Cheese is alive, and with a little TLC you can keep it in great condition for a few weeks.
Having said that, your cheese will usually be best the day you take it home and it generally won’t improve by being stored in your fridge for too long. The best advice is to only buy what you need, when you need it.
Once a wheel of cheese has been cut, it is exposed to the elements and is at the mercy of humidity, temperature, external bacteria and air flow. It stops the ‘aging’ process and will slow break down from here. It’s best to leave caring for large, valuable pieces of cheese to us, the experts, and buy small pieces often.
The best way to store your cheese at home is in our specialty wax paper. Avoid non-porous plastic wrap which traps all oxygen and causes cheeses to sweat and break down more rapidly. Never leave it uncovered in a cold fridge; it will quickly crack and dry out. Beeswax food wraps are a viable alternative to cheese paper, so long as you wrap the cheese tightly. A zip-lock bag will also suffice at a pinch.
When buying online, we’ll send your cheese either pre-wrapped in wax paper, or in its original packaging from the cheesemaker. Some of our hard cheese will be sent under cryo-vac, which will extend their life by a few months. Once the seal is broken, these will last on average 3-4 weeks.
You can purchase a box of specialty cheese paper here.
If the cut surfaces of your cheese start to bloom (when little spots of velvety fluff or moulds appear), simply scrape them off with a knife. This is usually a good thing, indicating your piece of cheese is healthy and thriving in its conditions.
If the mould has formed a thick layer, cut the full surface off and the cheese beneath should still be in optimal condition. Mould that grows rapidly and in thick layers may indicate there is too much moisture in your fridge. Try keeping each piece of cheese in an airtight container with a sugar cube to absorb some moisture.
If your cheese starts to show cracks, you may have left it too vulnerable to dry air. If caught early, some damp paper towel may revive it, but take care not to overexpose your cheese to the elements.
Most artisan cheese will have a pungent aroma, it’s usually a sign of good quality and flavour. However, trust your senses and if your cheese smells strongly of ammonia, or just smells deeply unpleasant to you, take caution. Feel free to contact us at anytime to appease your concerns.
Learn more about cheese care here.