The un-brie-lievable demand for Australian cheese
While Australia has always had a thriving dairy industry, we’ve traditionally imported cheeses. But that is changing, as consumers who want to support local farmers and producers realise award-winning cheeses are made on their doorstep.
La Luna’s Holy Goat cheese rivals any creamy goat’s cheese that comes out of France. Pecora Dairy is producing raw milk cheese, and Burraduc Farm has a herd of buffalo to provide fresh milk for luscious buffalo mozzarella balls that have Neapolitan pizzaiolos dreaming of home.
Research from Dairy Australia confirms Australians are big on cheese: we eat around 13.5kg per capita each year. By buying local we’re supporting dairy farmers and cheesemongers who have had to contend with bushfires and the impact of COVID-19.
As Sam Penny from Cheese Therapy told Eativity back in June, the demand for local varieties has exceeded expectations.
“What we thought was a COVID trend hasn’t slowed down. Since then we’ve had to open distribution in Geelong to be closer to the source and produce fewer food miles,” he says.
“We’ve been able to shorten the time it takes a cheese to get from a cheesemaker’s to a person’s home, so that when it arrives the cheese is ripe. Supermarkets needs six to eight weeks on a cheese, so it’s very unripe, but we can cut out all of that shelf time so that cheese arrives tasting exactly how the cheesemaker wants it to.”
Cheese delivery boxes aren’t a one-off trend. In March, COVID-19 forced the MOULD cheese festival in Brisbane to be postponed just five days before the event was due to start. This left organiser Dan Sims with a problem. He had 3000 people scheduled to attend its biggest cheese festival to date, and he was left with 1.5 tonnes of product that had already been made: “We asked ourselves, how do we help them sell this cheese, with restaurants shutting down?” he recalls.
So he shipped out curated cheese boxes, and they proved so popular that a new business was born: Mould Cheese Collective.
“COVID came along when Australia was already primed to support local, and Australian cheeses have never been better,” he says. “The response has been fantastic and it’s growing every month. It’s not about competing with cheese from France or about who makes the best French-style cheese, but celebrating what we have here at home.”
It’s easy to stick to the classics of brie, blue and cheddar, but there’s a whole range of flavours to be discovered. Local producers are making everything from semi-hard cheese coated in gin botanicals and soft fresh cow’s milk curds wrapped in vine leaves to Italian-style smoked scamorza.
As our tastebuds become more adventurous, demand for these specialty cheeses has increased. Three decades ago, they made up 30 percent of total production volume, but in recent years, this has climbed to 45-50 percent.
Home cooks are also upping their cheese game. During lockdown, chef Jo Barrett from Oakridge Wines in Victoria launched Have A Go magazine, with the first issue dedicated to making feta. Cheesemaker Kristen Allen has been teaching cheese workshops since 2012 – they were popular from day one and demand has steadily grown.
“I realised there were no workshops for anyone who wanted to learn so I just started,” Allen says. “This is all the stuff we should be making at home. It’s really easy, but not many people know how to do it.”
Allen teaches people how to make everything from a fresh curd and halloumi that’s ripe for pan-frying to a creamy burrata begging to be split open. And she believes the secret to great cheese is simple: “Really good milk; it’s the main ingredient,” she says.
This is a sentiment that celebrity chef Matt Moran agrees with: “With the combination of top-quality fresh milk and cultural influences from around the world, Australia is uniquely positioned to produce some of the most varied and high-quality ranges of cheese in the world,” he says. “As Australians, we are so lucky to have such a fantastic range of dairy produce on our doorstep.
“Whether it’s a trip to your favourite cheesemonger, a farmer’s market or even your local grocer, there are so many delicious Aussie cheeses to choose from, and it’s so important to show our support for Australian producers who have really been doing it tough.”
How to create the perfect cheeseboard
• For presentation, stick to odd numbers and choose different shapes and colours.
• Flavour-wise, you want a mix of subtle and strong, plus different textures. Think white mould, washed rind, blue, cheddar, semi-hard and hard styles.
• To best appreciate the flavours and textures, serve cheese at room temperature rather than straight from the fridge. Also, pay attention to the best-before date – that’s when the cheese will be ripe and offer the best flavour.
• Use a different knife for each cheese, so you don’t muddy the flavours.
• Sides matter, whether it’s strawberries, quince paste or honey. Choose accompaniments that will either complement or contrast the cheese (see below).
• Generosity is key, so don’t skimp on servings. For pre-dinner drinks allow 50–100g per person. If you’re skipping the main and just having cheese, go for 150–250g per person.
If you’ve bought a beautiful cheese, serve it with the sides that will make it shine:
• Ricotta – dukkah and extra virgin olive oil
• Raclette – potato chips and pickles
• Blue cheese – small squares of dark chocolate
• Washed rind – honey and fennel seeds
• Cheddar – thin slices of fruit cake
• Burrata – fresh figs and pomegranate molasses
For more information: Dairy Australia has created Cheese Please, a guide to choosing, storing, serving and matching the best Australian cheese.