Choosing Cheese

The people who know me know that I am obsessed with cheese; creamy, crumbly, sharp, mild, aromatic, fresh and inoffensive, I love it all. Interestingly enough it hasn’t always been this way, it took a 6 month working holiday in the Savoie region of France for me to gain an appreciation for what this cheese sh*t was all about and to say my life hasn’t been the same since would be a gross understatement. But thats not the point. I live in Australia and unfortunately our distance from Europe and some strict bio-security laws means that the selection of cheese on a budget is oftentimes uninspiring. Bega and Coon( big cheese companies) dominate our supermarket shelves, perfectly square rectangles of yellow pre cut ‘cheddar’ stacked in a toppling pile of blandness .

However, you can still enjoy good cheese here, and if like me you relish ( scuse the pun) the act of putting together a cheeseboard for friends, family, or just to enjoy yourself then you should make yourself familiar with the following cheeses. *NOTE despite the length this is by no means a comprehensive list of all the great cheese varieties out there, look it as more as a guide to some of the popular, widely available cheeses that I enjoy.

Soft Cheeses

Brie:

Brie is beautiful white mould cheese originating in the region of Ile de France. It is usually made from unpasteurised milk and aged for a minimum of 4 weeks. There are two major varieties of brie named after the two towns where true certified Brie can be made, Brie de Meaux( short rennet fermentation) and Brie de Melun( more aged, less creamy, more salty).

In Australia however a majority of cheese labelled Brie is not from France rather made in a brie style and there is a huge variety in quality. 

Some widely available quality Bries from Australia:

  • Paris Creek Double Brie
  • King Island Dairy Black Label Brie

Some good Imported bries:

  • Brie Fermier Tremblaye
  • Fromage de Meaux Rouziere

Camembert:

At its best this will be an oozy, perfumed, white mould cheese. Unlike brie, cream is not added and the resulting cheese has a lower fat content and tends to be slightly more aromatic than brie. In my experience there is a serious lacking of widely available good camemberts from Australia and so I would suggest going to a specialty cheese shop and getting an genuine article imported from Normandy France. Some good examples to look for are;

  • Graindorge Camembert
  • Camembert le fin Normandy
  • Le Conquerant Cammebert

Brilliant Savarin:

One of my favourite triple cream cheeses. Brilliant Savarin is a raw French Cheese from Burgundy; it’s funky, slightly chalky and super fatty.

Fromager d’affinois:

A very basic but tasty double cream cheese from the Rhone Alp region in France, expect pure creaminess.

L’Artisan Extravagant:

A Geelong (Australia) based triple cream, exceptionally oozyy with a fragrant mushroomy rind.

Washed Rind Cheeses: These almost deserve there own category, expect pungency and wrinkled orange rinds encasing complex but often subtle flavours. These cheeses can be divisive as they do tend to fill the air with an aroma that some people compare to old socks however they rarely taste as harsh as they smell.

Epoisses:

My favourite cheese on this list, fatty, indulgent, intensley savoury and highly perfumed. The raw milk cheese is from Burgundy France and is washed in a pomace brandy ( made from the leftovers of the winemaking process.) It is aged for a minimum of 6 weeks and has a soft spreadable consistency.

Reblochon:

This raw milk cheese originates in the Savoie region of France.It is nutty has a chewy texture and melts superbly into long stretchy curds . I have found it difficult to source genuine reblochon in Australia but L’ Artisan in Geelong makes a Mountain Man cheese which is a perfect substitute next time you wish to make tartiflette.

Morbier:

The hallmark feature of Morbier is its single horizontal greyish blue line of vegetable ash that runs through the centre of the cheese. The cheese was traditionally made with leftover Comte curds that were covered with vegetable ash as a means of protection before more curds were layered over them the following day. It is a smelly soft cheese with a washed orange rind, elasticy curd and nutty flavour.

Blue Cheeses

Roquefort:

A beautiful sheep milk cheese from Southern France, there is a lot os specification that pertains what can be called roquefort, from the specific breed of sheep ( Lacaune) to the caves where it has to be aged. Roquefort has a robust flavour with a sharpness that is not overbearing but highly satisfying. Due to its popularity it is quite available in Australia but expect to pay a premium, look out for;

  • Carles Roquefort
  • Le Roi Roquefort AOP

Gorgonzola:

An Italian blue from the north of the country in the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy. A beautiful cheese that transforms as it ages, there are two main types of gorgonzola; Gorgonzola Dolce, a less aged far softer cheese, and Gorgonzola Picante an older, chalky, crumbly, cheese. Despite its often overbearing aroma Gorgonzola is relatively mild in taste and there is a sharpness in the cheese which translates well to a lot of culinary applications.

There are a lot of cheap gorgonzolas available from commercial supermarkets in Australia, they vary a lot in quality however so look for the D.O.P (sign of authenticity) and try to source from a cheesemonger.

Fourme d’ Ambert and Blue d’Auvergne:

Both distinct blue cheese from the Auvergne region in France. There a few major differences between the two; bleu d’avergne is inoculated with live bacterial culture before its made to curdle giving it an intense sharpness, whereas forum d’ambert is typically aged for a longer and the curd of Forum d’Ambert is also salted prior to ageing whereas Bleu d’Auvergne is not. Both of these cheeses are subtle and creamy blues that you can’t really go wrong with. Unlike more popular names like gorgonzola and roquefort you will not encounter too many poorly made iterations of these two cheeses, as usual it always helps to look out for the AOP.

Stilton: A blue from England, more specifically the counties of Debyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. Stilton is pasteurised cows milk cheese that must be aged for a minimum of 9 weeks. It comes in two distinct varieties, blue and white. Blue Stilton is by far more popular and includes the addition of ‘Penicillium Roqueforti’. It is a highly savoury full bodied blue cheese with a slightly crumbly texture. As it is pasteurised and from the UK a wide variety of Stilton is available in Australia of which I have had both good and bad experiences, my favourite available in the city is;

  • Colton Basset Stilton

If buying Stilton from a supermarket avoid labelling that displays the supermarkets own brand and look for large wedges pieces wrapped ideally in foil.

Some other notable blue cheeses

Onetik Bleu de Basque: A highly seasonal blue cheese made in the mountainous region between France and Spain, it is made with a combination of goat and sheep milk and has a mild nutty flavour with floral notes reminiscent of the surrounding alpine flora.It can be aged in maturing rooms for upward of 4 months!

Queso Valdeon: A Spanish blue that is made using a combination of cow and goats milk, aged in caves and wrapped in sycamore leaves. It is a pungent, complex semi firm cheese with greyish green mould.

Australian

Berrys creek Tarwin Blue: A creamy and earthy blue that is reflective of the Gippsland regions lush pasture, moist and a little crumbly.

Prom Country Cheese Venus Blue: An ewe milk cheese made in a farmhouse blue ( the milk is collected from the same place where the cheese is made), it is mild cheese with a subtle citrus peel aroma.

Berrys Creek Riverina Buffalo Blue: A very tasty cheese with a rich mildness from the increased fat content of the buffalo milk which makes it far more approachable than many blue cheeses. A definite recommendation if you want to try something completely different yet not intimidating.

Hard/ Mature Cheeses

Comte and Gruyere: An absolutely beloved French cheese originating in the Alpine region of Franche- Comte by the Swiss boarder. It is a unpasteurised cows milk cheese that is aged anywhere from 4-24 months, as it ages you may notice crystals of msg similar to that of parmesan. Comte can only be produced by milk from either Montbéliarde or French Simmental cows, and there can only be 1.3 cows per hectare of land. Expect nuttiness, butteriness, leather among others, younger comte may have more of a floral profile while expect more umami and a slight sharpness from older comte. Comte is graded after being produced and exceptional cheese are marked with a bell symbol, something to look for as a consumer. Gruyere is very similar however it is made on the Swiss side of the border and is often far paler in appearance and gruyere will sometimes have holes due to a warmer production temperature. i would recommend purchasing two Comtes of different ages ex. a 6 month and a 12 month and comparing the two side to side.

Parmesan/ Parmigiano Reggiano: Okay so you know what parmesan is… what if I was to tell you that one of the most widely available cheeses in the world is also one of the most complex and perhaps misunderstood. It is a raw milk cowes cheese, after the curds are cut and pressed it is submerged in a brine for two weeks before being aged for a minimum of 12 months but 36 month old cheeses are not uncommon. It can be made in the Lombardy and Emilia Romagna regions of Italy however outside the EU the title of parmesan can also be used for similar cheeses produced elsewhere. Expect nuttiness, salt, savouriness and a sharp finish. Parmigiano Reggiano is a name reserved for true parmesan D.O.P from the before mentioned regions so this is the title to look for when selecting parmesan in Australia. Avoid pre-cut, pre-grated and ‘parmesan’ sold in packaging without the rind.

Cheddar: Thanks to its mild flavour, creamy mouthfeel, easy melting it is one of the most popular and widely available cheeses today. Cheddar originates in Somerset UK, where the high quantity of beta carotene in the cows natural diet lends the cheese a golden to orangey hue the nearby Cheddar caves provided the ideal ageing conditions for the cheese. Like many cheeses there exists a huge variety within the bracket of what is cheddar and a lot of this variation has to do with age; a young cheddar may be anywhere from 2-3 months whilst some premium cheddars are anywhere from 2-10 years old. As cheddar ages its sharpness tends to increase and its texture goes from creamy and smooth to crumbly with large crystals of calcium lactate. I recommend trying to get your hands on a vintage cheddar that has been matured for upwards of 12 months as the flavour becomes more complex and intriguing. It is also worth trying to seek out the genuine article a PDO recognised farmhouse cheddar from the counties of weather Somerset, Dorset, Devon or Cornwell in the UK.

Some cheddars to try include;

  • Quickes Extra Mature Cheddar- UK
  • Cabot Clothbound Cheddar- USA
  • Pyengana Cheddar Reserve Vintage Cloth bound- Australia

Heres a couple

Note: Please please avoid clubhouse cheddar, I have a personal vendetta against this ‘cheese’ which is often a lazy attempt at covering up and increasing the price of a boring, inferior product by introducing other ingredients.

Manchego: An unpasteurised sheep (Manchega breed) milk cheese from the La Mancha region in central Spain that has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. For good reason, this semi hard cheese with its distinctive rippled rind ( traditionally achieved through ageing in woven grass moulds) is a product of a multi step ageing process including brining and brushing the rind with olive oil which lends it a texture which is uncommon in other hard cheeses. Like other sheep milk cheeses expect a little chalkiness and a distinct aroma with a buttery nuttiness reminiscent of comte . It can be aged anywhere from 60 days to up to 2 years and expect variations in flavour and texture with age, young cheeses are far milder and less firm than older varieties which pick up caramel leathery flavours with age. When choosing Manchego look for a DOP certified cheese of a minimum of 6 months, ( it is very difficult to source quality young macho in Australia.)

Tomme: My time in France meant that I am very familiar with this style of semi-hard cheese that you will find in the alpine regions of France, Switzerland and the piedmont region of Italy. It is a cows milk cheese which is characterised by the lower temperature that the milk is curdled and its distinctive wheel shap.. It has a quite unusual mottled greyish rind that is as a consequence of the specific micro flora found in the caves where this cheese is aged. There are many different styles of Tomme cheese, the main two which I am aware of are Tomme de Savoie ( from the Savoie region in France that borders Italy and Switzerland) and the Toma Piemontese ( from the Piedmont region in Italy).

Tomme de Savoie: Is mild , mushroomy and somewhat citrusy. It is typically aged 1- 3 months and is produced using skimmed cows milk.

Toma Piemontese: Is more nutty, and earthy often has small eyes (holes) and is aged for 1-2 months. It can be produced with either skim or whole milk.

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