Cheese has to be one of life’s great pleasures. You can cook with it, throw it on a sandwich or crispbread, serve it in a salad, throw together a cheeseboard for a dinner party, or sit yourself down with a delicious, runny triple cream brie and a glass of wine or port. Whatever you do with it, you can be sure it will be devoured with gusto. Australia is now world-famous for its cheeses – a long way removed from the world of ‘Kraft’ cheddar and ‘Velveeta’ – a sweet, spreadable cheese packed in a similar way to ‘Kraft’ cheddar, and as my grandmother taught me, a great way to do “Vita Weet’ worms – that I grew up with.
Everywhere from the Hunter Valley, to Tasmania to Western Australia – especially the Margaret River region – is doing spectacular cheddars, brie, camembert, goat’s cheese, washed rinds, ricotta, and the entire plethora of cheeses from all around the world.
Cheeses are basically classified as soft (Mozzarella, Ricotta, Feta, Haloumi, Goat’s Cheese, Chevre, Brie, Camembert, Washed Rind cheeses); semi-soft (Taleggio, Harvarti, Port Salut, Gouda, Edam, Colby); hard (Lancashire, Red Leicester, Double Gloucester, all the Cheddars, Pecorino, Manchego, Gruyere, Emmental, Jarlsberg, Provolone, Pecorino and the world famous Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano); blue (Brie, Camembert, Gorgonzola, Dolcellate, Stilton, Shropshire Blue, Jersey Blue, Gippsland Blue, Roquefort, Danish Blue); and strong (Limburger, Munster, Liptauer). Showing a total lack of modesty, I can say that I throw together the best cheeseboards, and often get asked by friends to do them for functions. I don’t go for the minimalist approach recommended by the cheese experts – I’ve never really been one for food snobbery. Eating cheese should be a pig-out experience, and this is the approach I take. I offer a variety of crackers, from basic water style to lavosh and grissini. The board will usually have 3-4 of my favourite cheeses, including: Margaret River Port Dipped Cheddar or King Island Cheddar; Persian Feta or a good Chevre or Goat’s Cheese; King Island ‘Discovery’ Washed Rind Brie or a double or triple Brie; and possibly a Port Salut. This gives a good variety of flavours and textures. Then add a sprinkling of fresh fruit, and items such as fresh dates, dried apricots, honey-glazed figs, Turkish Delight, Muscatels and chocolate coated orange peel. Believe me, there is never anything left. There is a wonderful range of accompaniments for cheeses that you can make yourself, and following are a few examples. I find that the stronger cheeses are more suitable to ports, and the creamier style cheeses compliment sweet desert wines. The supermarkets have finally woken up to the fact that fridges full of ‘Coon’, ‘Kamaruka’ and ‘Kraft’ just doesn’t hold sway anymore, and the bigger Coles and Woolworths supermarkets keep huge ranges of cheese, though some of the more specialist ones require the expertise of David Jones, or the fromagerie in Jones the Grocer or Simon Johnson Providore. There is also an excellent cheese store in the food court of the GPO Building in Martin Place in the city.
Always serve cheeses at room temperature, and please use the proper knifes, otherwise the cheese is just hacked.
Raisin and Rosemary Bread
250g strong plain flour
150g strong wholemeal flour
100g rye flour
1½ teaspoons quick-acting yeast
1½ teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary, plus extra leaves to decorate
310ml tepid water
2 tablespoons olive oil
Mix together the flours in a large bowl. Mix in the yeast, sea salt and rosemary. Dissolve the sugar in 2 tablespoons of the water. Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in your dissolved sugar and olive oil, followed by the rest of the water. Work nthe flour into the liquid with a wooden spoon, then mix with your hands until all the flour is incorporated.
Turn onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes or until elastic. Flatten the dough and add half the raisins, fold over and knead for a few seconds, then repeat with the remaining raisins. Knead for another 5 minutes until smooth. Place the dough in a large bowl covered with a damp cloth, and leave in a warm place for about 45-50 minutes, until doubled in size.
Punch the dough down, then roll up into a long sausage, tucking in the ends. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet, make 3-4 diagonal slits in the dough with a sharp knife, cover with a towel and leave for another 25 minutes.
Preheat oven to 200°C . Brush the top of the loaf lightly with water and scatter over the remaining rosemary leaves, pressing them lightly onto the dough.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until the loaf is well browned and sounds hollow when you tap it on the base.
Cool for 45 minutes before serving.
Garlic and Poppyseed Cream Crackers
225g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
50g chilled butter
75ml single cream
½ teaspoon garlic paste or fresh garlic
3 tablespoons water
Preheat oven to 190°C, and lightly grease two baking trays.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add poppy seeds. Cut the butter into cubes and rub into flour until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Mix the cream with the garlic and stir into the flour then gradually add the water, pulling the mixture together until it forms a ball.
Flour your work surface, and shape the dough into a flat, smooth disc. Cut in half, then roll each half out thinly and evenly. Using a sharp knife (or cookie cutters) cut the dough into long triangles about 15cm long. Use a palate knife to transfer them to the baking sheets, and prick them all over. Use remiainder of dough including trimmings until it has all been used.
Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Set aside on a rack to cool.
Savoury Parmigiano Biscotti
2½ cups plain flour
I cup grated Parmigiano Regiano (use a cheaper grated parmesan if this is too expensive)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda (Bicarbonate of Soda)
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped (buy the bottled in olive oil type)
Preheat oven to 170°C. Line a baking tray with silicon (baking) paper.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, Parmesan, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.
In another bowl, beat eggs until pale in colour. Stir in the sun-dried tomatoes. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients, to make a stiff dough.
Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and form the dough into a long, log shape about 3” wide. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 150°C.
Cut the log into ½” diagonal slices. Put fresh baking paper on the baking tray. Place the slices on the tray, and bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Transfer to wire rack to cool
Store in an airtight container.
Caramelised Pears with Parmigiano Reggiano
2 ripe but firm pears, peeled, cored and cut into 8 wedges
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup Grand Marnier (or whatever is to hand, including port or sherry)
1 teaspoon finely grated orange rind
4 small Parmigiano Reggiano wedges
Toss the pears and sugar together gently in a bowl.
In a large frying pan over medium heat melt the butter. Add the pears and cook over medium-high heat for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar begins to caramelize to alight golden colour. Do NOT let the sugar turn brown.
Add the Grand Marnier or other flavouring and orange zest. Cook 2-3 minutes longer, or until slightly reduced.
Transfer the mixture to 4 serving plates, and serve immediately with the Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup wholemeal plain flour
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
60g butter, chopped
¼ cup golden syrup
1/3 cup milk
Process oats until firmly ground. Place flour in a large bowl with oats and sugar. Rub in butter until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Combine golden syrup and milk in a small pan, stir over heat until warm. Stir warm milk mixture into oat mixture. Mix to a stiff dough, knead gently on a lightly floured surface until smooth.
Roll dough between sheets baking paper until 3mm thick. Cut into 6cm rounds and place about 2cm apart on a greased oven tray. Prick all over with a fork. Bake in 180°C oven for about 12 minutes or until lightly browned.
Cool on trays.
These are really delicious with a good cheddar
Tim Alderman 2015