Mr NQN and I usually spend our weekends researching and eating food. Lots of it I should add. And sometimes, if we’re very lucky the weekend will involve getting out and seeing our fair city as well as foraging for food. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to combine the two.
Allow me to rewind. RedBalloon were kind enough to offer Mr NQN and I a spot in the McIntosh Bowman cheese and wine tasting workshops on picturesque Fort Denison. Within the space of two hours we would be taught all sorts of fascinating things about cheese and wine and be introduced or reacquainted with twelve of Australia’s best farmhouse cheeses.
We meet at 11:45am by the sign and Claudia introduces herself. She is the McIntosh half of McIntosh & Bowman the cheesemongers and a self confessed “curd nerd” who has travelled the world making cheese with some of the top names in the cheese world (and did you know that there is a Cheese Olympics in Lyon?). She explains that we will be catching the noon ferry over to Fort Denison where we will taste cheeses and wines against the historical setting of Fort Denison. The last time Mr NQN and I visited Fort Denison was for Mother’s Day and we had taken a peek inside the cheese tasting room after lunch.
The sun isn’t quite cooperating today and we take the very short 5 minute boat trip across the water past the Harbour Bridge on the left and the Opera House to the right. We arrive at Fort Denison to a glass of sparkling wine and there is at first a run down on Fort Denison etiquette by the National Parks person as the entire island is heritage listed and then it’s onto the canapes!
Today’s canapes are had in the main grassy area at the top. To one side is the tower and to the other side is the lovely albeit rainy and windy harbour view. We start with some fresh Sydney rock oysters with lemon which are just the best way to orient yourself with the harbour.
Our next canape is the beetroot cured salmon on crouton toasts which is utterly moreish. In fact if we weren’t about to go back in to start the tasting I might have asked for more!
We make our way down to the tasting room. At each of our places is a plate of 12 cheeses-11 Australian and 1 Italian cheese. There are also two discs of “Pastilla Nash” which is a prune and walnut log which is handmade in Sydney and sells in 14 countries around the world. There are also freshly baked Infinity sourdough bread rolls in the centre of the table and four glasses of wine to have with the cheeses as well as a water and a glass for beer. All of the cheeses that we are tasting are top of the range with none less than $90 a kilo.
We’re asked to introduce ourselves to everyone and name our favourite cheeses. Everyone’s answers vary from tasty to triple brie and I find it hard to narrow it down to just one cheese or even two so I mention the Holy Goat La Luna cheese and burrata which is my current obsession. And fortuitously a sister to the Holy Goat La Luna is on the menu today! All of the cheeses are classified as farmhouse cheese and in this case, it means that they’re made in small, artisinal batches. They are a mix of the four types of milk: cow, goat, sheep and buffalo. There are also large batch farmhouse cheeses like roquefort and parmesan but these are also made to strict standards and regulations but these weren’t part of this tasting.
And why Fort Denison as a setting? Well cattle of course are not indigenous to Australia and in 1788 when they were first brought over, there were five cows (apparently some pregnant) and two bulls. They were loaded onto the sandbank which is now known as Bennelong Point but was then called Cattle Point. The cattle were here in make shift enclosures where the Opera House now stands. They did get loose and ended up wandering away and were found as far away as Camden which was then called “cow pasture” because Claudia tells us “cows were found fat and happy, feeding on green pastures having multiplied to a herd of 40 in the time in which they had gone missing!”
Claudia tells us that there are theories as to how cheese was originally discovered and one holds that a shepherd accidentally discovered cheese. Back in the day, every part of an animal was used including it’s stomach which was washed, dried and oiled and the shepherd may have used that to store some of his herd’s milk. The heat from the sun, the movement of the walking and the enzymes present in the stomach would have quite possbily given the first taste of cheese!
There are essentially seven types of cheese: fresh (mozzarella, ricotta), bloomy (brie or camembert), washed (fire engine red), semi hard (Jarlsberg), hard pressed (reggiano), blue veined (gorgonzola) and processed (in this case one rolled in ash or fruit, they’re not going to serve us Kraft singles!). Claudia suggests that we try the cheeses using our fingers for the full experience although a knife is given to us.
The four wines are a NZ Semillon Sauignon Blanc, a Mudgee Pinot Gris, a Langham Creek Moscato (which is very light and lightly sparkling) and a Margaret River Two Brothers Cabernet Merlot.
The first three cheeses we are given are fresh cheeses and they are a Paesanella mozzarella made of buffalo milk which is made in Marrickville in Sydney. With each cheese she asks us to pick them up with our hands and smell them before tasting them. Interestingly, she tells us that this cheese is made for melting and the best way to tell if a cheese is made for melting is if there is an oily residue that comes out from it once it is melted then it is not made for melting!
The second cheese the Meredith feta made with sheep’s milk from Meredith Valley in Victoria. It has that distinct lanoliney aroma to a sheep milk cheese and pairs nicely with the sauvignon blanc and moscato. Claudia tells us that in Greece, they eat the feta less salty than we do. When they export it over here they add extra salt to preserve it and that we should rinse our feta before consuming it. Overseas they remark that we seem to like our feta salty!
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